Six Tips for Preparing for the Mueller Report, Which May or May Not Be Coming
Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brain great not to make our country. Great in his opening remarks before the house oversight committee. Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal attorney made a striking statement about Trump's campaign. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say this campaign was going to be the greatest infomercial in political history. In essence, it's not that Trump's campaign overlapped or conflicted with his business. The campaign was the business. He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign for him was always a marketing opportunity. Hello and welcome to this Trump Inc. Podcast extra from WNYC in Republika. I'm Andrea Bernstein. I'm Ilya marritz for the last year we've been unraveling the mysteries of Trump's financial interests this week. Michael Cohen laid some of those interests bear in his testimony before the house oversight committee and in documents. He released leading up to the hearing and Ilian our like, oh my God. We can't believe we are actually having someone from inside tell us how things worked on the record. So we've each picked up some of the segments of the hearing that we think are the most eliminating, and we're gonna play them and talk about them before we go started. I just want to say how remarkable it's been less than a year since you. And I were driving around Nassau County an outer Brooklyn retracing elements of Michael Cohen's life. Now, he's here. And he's telling us what he knows. So the first piece of Cape that I picked out was about the Trump Tower Moscow deal. So this deal was back in November. When Michael Cohen was like, no, no, no this deal did not end in January of two thousand sixteen. It went on until June of two thousand sixteen and other really stunning things in that plea deal. He said he had briefed Trump and his family about it. He said he had been in touch with a campaign official, and that he had spoken to an official from the Kremlin about this Moscow projects was the thing. He lied to congress thing he lied to congress about and in his opening statement, he addresses why he lied Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to congress. That's not how he operates. In conversations we had during the campaign at the same time. I was actively negotiating in Russia for him. He would look me in the eye and tell me there's no Russian business and then go on to lie to the American people by saying the same thing in his way, he was telling me to lie. There were at least a half a dozen times between the Iowa caucus in January of twenty sixteen and the end of June. When he would ask me, how's it going in Russia referring to the Moscow tower project? You need to know that Mr. Trump's personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to congress about the timing of the Moscow tower negotiations before I gave it to be clear. Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it so many things here that I want to talk about. But let's start with the lie. Which is that Cohen is saying that he and Trump both knew that Trump was lying, and they just went on with it. This was ordinary course of business again. In fact, the method of establishing this story is just sort of being like, I don't know. It's just like sort of saying what you wish were true. And then acting as if it is true. What going didn't really say one of the things about the lie is that it will say that people from the Trump organization or people who know. Trump have often said this to me that everybody knows that there is a lie involved in everybody just accepts it and Cohen says another part of his testimony. He says he didn't think the stakes were so high when it was just real estate development versus running for president and being president of the United States. This is the first time that I've heard anybody on the record in this big stages, saying Trump, lied all the time. Everybody knew it. This was part of the business model, and he's also implicating Trump's children in the lie. Don, jR, and vodka vodka has basically said I was barely involved at all. I believed on junior has said some. Similar and said that I think under oath to congress. So that might really create problems for him. What if only peripherally contradicts ten times, right, right? So he writes Cohen said he briefed the Trump family about ten times in that period. What I didn't hear him dress. And that's a little unsatisfying to me is why they wouldn't admit to the Moscow deal. What were they trying to hide exactly it is? I think one of the big lingering questions from today. One of the things though that Michael Cohen testified about was that his testimony was reviewed by the president's attorneys end. He said, Ivanka Jared Kushner's attorney also looked at it. It was part of this joint defense agreement. So one of the things that is interesting about that is that he was sort of saying, okay? I never was told directly to line. He. Was clear about that that he was never ordered to lie. But that he as he said I worked for Trump for decades. So I understood the code so by submitting a certain piece of testimony that contained a lie. He his understanding was that he was given the signal to go ahead and do that. I think the one other thing that we have to say about Moscow is that Cohen talked about it repeatedly as a business deal as a lucrative business deal. He talked about the prospect of making hundreds of millions of dollars from this deal. And he really talked about it as something that the Trump family and the Trump organization saw as a profit center for them. They didn't expect the win the election, but they did expect to come out of two thousand sixteen making a lot of money out of this deal. So that was useful confirmation for us who are trying to understand the the motives of the campaign around that time, and what they were doing in Moscow in the first place, and it doesn't entirely explain why Trump didn't wanna say it. No, not at all. Went to such lengths to deny it. But we know that when this plea deal came out he said, well, I if my campaign wasn't successful. I still had a right to make money as a businessman. He does have a right to make money as a businessman. The question is whether he should be secretly negotiating with a hostile foreign power during the campaign for president the next piece of tape. Oh, I love I love this next piece of it. Because it tells us so much about the inner workings of the Trump organization. So there is this understanding that they can do things extra legally that they can figure out these creative methods to cover their tracks. There's a sense of cheapness people don't wanna be paying for things and their sense of. Okay. We have to keep all of the secret. And all of this comes out in this description that Michael Cohen gives of how he met with Donald Trump about the pain. Wants to Stephanie Clifford, aka stormy Daniels during the final weeks of the campaign, and how they would get that done, and he talks about he and Trump and Alan Wessel Berg, the Trump organization chief financial officer all meet together. And then he and Allen Wessler go off, and they try to figure out how they're going to do it. They're styling to use his money didn't want to use mine, and he said he couldn't and we then decided how else we can do it. And he asked me whether or not know anybody who wants to have a party at one of his clubs that could pay me instead or somebody who may have wanted to become a member of one of the golf clubs, and I also don't have anybody that was interested in that. And it got to the point where it was down to the wire. It was either we somebody wire the funds and purchased the life rights to the story from miss Clifford. Or it was going to end up being sold to television. And that would have embarrassed the president, and it would have interfered with the election. Okay. There's so many interesting things about this mean one is just the sense of precariousness around all of this. This is a an active candidate for president of the United States major party nominee weeks away from the election, and he's desperately searching for somebody who can help cover his tracks. That's just. To think that he was going to campaign rallies and coming off stage and thinking about this is just so striking. And there was also one of the things that came up a number of times in the testimony was how it interacted with the access Hollywood tape and Michael Cohen says it was very much on their minds that if there was another story about a problematic Trump relationship with the woman that that they really feared would be devastating. And in one sense. He was saying that's what sort of pushed us to go to these desperate lanes. But as the hearing went on it was really clear that this kind of thing was in character. It was ordinary, and we have come across this. We've come across this sort of strange financial range. We're trying to figure out what they mean. What is this? What is that? What's the plan? And here's Michael Cohen saying though, there was no plan. We were just grambling. And this is what we came up with the only other thing. I want to say about this clip is Allan Allan Weisselberg. His name came. Up a bunch. I kind of felt like Michael Ona's pointing a big red arrow at him. And it was like talk to this guy in congress should talk to this guy. If they have these questions because Allen Weisselberg chief financial officer of the Trump organization started working for Fred Trump decades ago, and he's been with Donald Trump every step of the way, we know he has some kind of immunity deal with prosecutors. But we don't know the shape of that deal. I don't know if congress can call him if they can subpoena him, but if members of congress are still curious about all this stuff after hours and hours of Michael Cohen testimony today, the next person, they should talk to probably is Ellen Weisselberg. Like, this is a good moment to put in a little note for the listeners that you and I covered Michael Cohen's crimes before he was rated before really anybody knew his name. We were looking at his associates, and they're problematic criminal histories, and and how Michael Cohen had. Never been charged with a crime, but he had been running up against all these people who were or who lost their professional licenses or had been charged in some way, and the Republican response to everything Michael Cohen said was he's Aligarh. He's a liar. He's a liar. And we at Trump Inc certainly have familiarity with that. But having said that a lot of the things that Michael Cohen said today lined up with other things we have learned about the Trump organization from people who've been associated with it from documents from court records. So there was a sense of the pieces falling into place. Finally. Okay. So the next piece of Dave I wanna play actually connects with what we've just been talking about. And that's the hush money payments, and the profile that that we did have Michael Cohen last April, and we're still trying to figure it out right after he had been. That's right. So who you're going to hear from next is Michael Rothfield? He is one of the team of reporters at the Wall Street Journal who really pulled this whole thing apart and got everybody interested in the stormy Daniels payments and piece together the story of these shell companies. We'd heard that it was an LLC with kind of a funny name. Appropriate name like damage control or something. They started searching state databases for new companies formed in October twenty sixteen picking out any suggestive names they saw Bri. We look for damage control. We looked for like hush money. We looked first secrets, you know, things like that secret consultants things such as that we eventually found one called resolution consultants that was formed in Delaware. And when we pulled the paperwork for that corporation, Michael Cohen's name was on it. And that was kind of like a bingo moment, and we thought we had found it. But the timeframe wasn't quite right. And so we confronted Michael Cohen with that. And he said, no, no, that's not it that I never even set up a Bank account for that Elsie. They went back to the database of shell companies. That's how we found essential consultants Elsie which also had his name on. And that was the one that he used with that. So when Michael rossville store. Comes out and Joe Palo story. This creates a huge public relations problem for Trump and Michael Cohen with whom he at the time is still allied. And they have to get their story straight about these facts that are now being trumpeted on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and we actually heard a breakdown of how did that? And how according to Michael Cohen he- and Trump put their story together. Here's an exchange with Katie hill democrat from California about the cover up to the president call you hoard Nate on public messaging about the payments to miss Clifford's in or around February twenty eighteen yes. What did the president ask or suggest that you say about the payments or reimbursements? Who's not knowledgeable of these reimbursements? And he wasn't knowledgeable of my actions. He asked you to say that we just move great. And then went onto describe the scene from Peru. Twenty eighteen basically one year ago when he Cohen is doing this interview with a reporter from Vanity Fair and Donald Trump actually calls him. And he takes time out from the interview to discuss with the president of the United States how they're going to get their story straight about the hush money payments. And it's just we knew that this coordination was happening or is probably happening. But hearing him describe it was just so vivid. Also that it was happening in twenty eighteen so this is well into Donald Trump's presidency, and we learned today with after Donald Trump had written a personal check for thirty five thousand dollars to pay Michael Cohen and his son. Donald Trump junior had signed a nun. Other check. So the family is in on this payoff scheme. As Michael Cohen described it going gave us those two checks. Look at stunning things about that. One of them is that there's this participation what the southern district of New York has described as a crime by Donald Trump and his son and his business. Another is that there's Donald Trump in the White House has Michael Cohen describes it in the Oval Office saying here's this picture. Here's this portrait. And by the way, your check is coming by FedEx, and it takes a while for that to get through the White House apparatus. But don't worry. It's coming to you. So all of this reporting, we've been doing about Noor is no separation between Trump and his business and his campaign. There is Michael Cohen testifying that is all coming together. In this moment of getting Michael Cohen his payment reimbursement for his hush money payment to stormy Daniel in this stuff is completely own settled Michael Cohen's going to jail for his role in. In it. But in terms of Donald Trump's role, and now Donald Trump junior's role, and Ellen Weisselberg and American media and all the other parties to this agreement. We don't really know what the shakeout is going to be and you could feel in the hearings that this is still very much a live issue. I want to play you a clip from an exchange with congressman row Connor where he basically adds it all up, and then says now what I just want the American public understand the explosive nature if you're Stefanie in this document, are you telling us mister Colin that the president directed Transpac shins in conspiracy with Alan Weisselberg and his son Donald Trump junior as part of civil criminal criminal conspiracy, a financial fraud is that your testimony today. Yes. And do you know if this criminal financial scheme that the president Alan Weisselberg and Donald Trump junior involved in is being investigated by the southern district of New York? I'd rather not discuss that question because could be part of a investigations currently ongoing for one of the things that we learned is that Cohen says I speak to the southern district of New York all the time that his most recent communications with Trump are the subject of an ongoing investigation. According to Michael Cohen, probably from last summer probably from last summer, and he was asked to Donald Trump do anything else illegal. And he said, oh, I can't answer that because the southern district is looking into it. So we don't know we have no other source for this information other than what Michael Cohen said today what she said under oath in congress with he's already convicted of lying to congress. So the penalties would presumably the very severe. If he were lying again. We don't know what this means. But according to him, the southern district is still looking into other potential, Trump crimes and everything else. We. Hadn't learned already wasn't so surprising. The fact that the president the United States might be under investigation still for something. We don't know about was. Startle all through the hearings Republicans are trying to poke holes in Cohen's credibility to try to get to the root of his motive Lasko asked a lot of questions about like whether he had a book deal because Cohen could be eligible under something called rule thirty five for a reduction in his sentence if his cooperation with the district bears fruit. So he actually has like a stake in all this. It has a motive to cooperate. I mean, one of those interesting is he kept repeatedly warning members of congress and saying don't end up like me, don't keep defending him. Don't do what I did which is trash the people that are attacking him. Because that's what I did. And look at me now, and he that what that became his response to liar liar pants on fire, which is was essentially. In fact, I think it is what one of the Republican says it is that's a direct quote. Yes. That was sitting. It was Democrats asking questions about different. Shoes and Republicans saying you're liar. You're fief your crock. Here's your plea deal and Cohen responded to that by saying I ended up here because I did what you're doing today to me. I think the last piece of tape that I wanna play Andrea is from our local congresswoman Alexandria Cossio Cortez. AO see, and I was really curious what she was going to say because, you know, her thing democratic socialism and different forms of Justice. And I I didn't know her to be particularly interested in Disney understanding, the Trump business, but she revealed that she has a real interest in it. And she I think she was really one of the most effective questioners on all of this. So in the space of just about five minutes, she asked Cohen a lot of stuff on the record and got answers, chef some where American media's secrets on Donald Trump are kept. He said David pecker has them and David pecker runs American media Inc. The parent company of the National Enquirer, and we should say that. Cohen said there was a whole he didn't use the word vault. But he said there was a whole storage area of Trump's secrets that had been kept over the years. He doesn't know where they are. Now, this is what was asking about. And he said ask David pecker. He has them. He'll know. She asked about false statements to insurers on behalf of the Trump organization, which something else that has sort of recently been reported and Mike Owens said yes that happened. Just plainly didn't really elaborate, and then she homes in on the golf courses. And there is a Trump golf course in district in the Bronx next to the bridge. I know and this is interesting because of property taxes, which is something we devoted a whole episode two last year Donald Trump's playing up the value of his properties when it suits him and playing it down when it comes time to pay property taxes. Mr. Cohen, I want to ask you about your assertion that the president may have improperly devalued his assets to avoid paying taxes. According to an August twenty fourth to August twenty first twenty sixteen report by the Washington Post while the president claimed financial disclosure forms that Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter Florida was worth more than fifty million. He had. Reported otherwise to local taxes authorities that the course was worth quote, no more than five million. Mr. Cohen do know whether this specific report is accurate. It's identical to what he did at Trump National Golf Club at briar cliff manner. Do you to your knowledge was the president interested in reducing his local real estate bills tax bills? Yes. And how did he do that? What you do? Is. You deflate the value of the asset. And then you put in a request to the tax department for a duck Shen Inca. This is not like rampant criminality, it's more of a motive sort of state of mind kind of thing. And I think it's something that any American who owns their home will instantly grasp which is that you have to pay property taxes every year. So when the president of the United States is really brazenly underplaying, the value of his properties actually, do think. That's a fact that might connect with citizens, even if it's not particularly of interest to prosecutors. I it's hard to know because there are plenty of people who feel like, okay. Well if. If you are just following the laws, who cares if you don't pay your taxes? No one likes paying taxes. There are questions though, that are raised about whether Trump has done this to an illegal extent, which is to say everybody wants to value their assets low when they can and value them high when they can profit from it. The question is has he ever crossed a line? Michael Cohen didn't quite say. But he strongly hinted it, for example, when he said that Donald Trump got a ten million dollar refund trek from the IRS and said they were so stupid to give it to me. So we insiders look today at the way the Trump organization valued it's assets. Doing what I did with golf courses which just undervalue them when it came to paying taxes, and then for other reasons to go back and say they were actually worth more than they were times that I was asked again with Alan Weisselberg, the CFO to go back into speak with an individual from Forbes because Mr. Trump wanted. Each year to have his net worth rise on the Forbes wealthiest individuals list, when we heard Forbes, we knew we had to call our friend. Dan Alexander who covers Trump's businesses any used to work on putting together the magazines billionaires list. So basically Michael Cohen is describing how the Trump organization tries to game the system and act like down from is richer than he actually is and the exercise to game. The system is kind of similar to how you actually go about valuing his NetWorth generally in his testimony cone, just gripe is essentially what was working backwards from the value. Trump wanted to be assessed at and trying to make the numbers work. The difference is that when you're trying to game the system you start with a number that you want at the end, and then you kinda work your way, backward and try to figure out how can we fudge? To get there and Donald Trump in. This is true years before he ever became a political figure is absolutely obsessed with the number that Forbes says is his net worth. We've put about sixteen hundred people on the Forbes four hundred since the first Lewis in nineteen eighty-two none of them care as much about this figure than the current president of the United States. So what was your reaction to hearing this discussion of for today will none of the content of it was surprising? Because of course, when you're on the other end of it, you know, exactly what's going on. You know that these numbers don't make any sense, and they're not tethered to reality. But was interesting was hearing the person delivering the message. I mean, Michael Cohen was one of the people who was in discussions with us in past years over these vary conversations. And so today to hear him flat out admit we were just making a bunch of that stuff. Up. It was kind of amazing to watch. But of course, there was nothing really revelatory about it. We knew it. But nonetheless, seeing somebody admitted is always kind of fascinating kinda startling all of the things that he said today in the testimony that we know goes on because we deal with Trump organization the White House we deal with their public statements. So we know the game that is going on. But to have him own two. It was kind of weirdly satisfying. Interesting. It was funny as we were looking at it. Because particularly when he started getting into the nitty gritty of how exactly they try to manipulate the numbers again, it all makes sense. But it's like, wow. So it really is just that arbitrary now that Trump just picks a number and they just try to back up from there. You know? So we got a clue as to why. Because Cohen released these financial documents in connection with an attempt to get a a loan from Deutsche Bank to buy the Buffalo Bills. I didn't actually know was something that they did did you. There was some rumors about them potentially buying the bills and two thousand thirteen or whatever it was. But truthfully, nobody took it all that. Seriously. Trump made a bunch of noise about it. But there was always the question. How is Donald Trump can have enough cash to buy an NFL team? So made sense that they would have had to go get financing if they were seriously trying to do it and how serious the project actually was. As I suppose for the bait. So Michael Cohen didn't come right out and say this on the testimony. But what these documents show is two thousand eleven they're total assets are around five billion four and a half billion in two thousand twelve they're five billion. And then the next year twenty thirteen they're nine billion or maybe they're eight point six billion because he's assigned this whole new asset category called brand value. So what did you learn from his documents? Well, so you can see as you're looking through line by line that he assigns value to his licensing and management revenue. Streams, and that makes some sense. So Trump gets paid to put his name on other people's products. And in many cases, they're locked into those deals for certain amount of time. And so you would value that they're publicly traded companies that have similar business lines. So you can come up with the valuation for that that is a brand business. That's the definition of brand business. What you don't do is? Then just for the heck of it caq on a random number that makes the whole NetWorth much bigger. Just doesn't make any sense seems to be the hint in Michael Cohen testimony that these two threads are converging on the one hand getting really good valuation from Forbes and having these figures to present to the banks. Yeah. I mean, it's kind of interesting it's easy to justified trying to deceive a magazine trying to deceive banks is much more dangerous endeavor. And how seriously Bank would have actually taken this. You know as another question. I mean, if you're a banker at Deutsche Bank, and you pull this up, and it's got this sort of cursory summary of the assets and then half of it is tacked onto brand value. Are you really gonna change the amount of money that you're lending to Donald Trump? Probably not what else did you learn today? What you big takeaways? Well, you know, the stuff that is outside of the business was, of course, interesting. I was laughing with one of my colleagues. So here you're talking about the stormy Daniels stuff and the Russia's stuff and all that I was talking about the middle and my colleagues, and we watch these congressional testimonies every now and then from start to finish and it takes a couple hours and usually sorta start to zone. Out after an hour. And you, you know, one out of every four questions is interesting or something like this on this one. It was like ninety percent of the exchanges were fascinating, regardless of the topic. Dan, Alexander, Forbes magazine, thank you so much. Of course. Thank you. So really this one other thing I wanted to talk about before we wrap up this episode, which is the portrait which one Cohen describes a charity option where there's a picture of Donald Trump up for bid and Donald Trump. According to Cohen wants to make sure that his portrait is going to get the highest bid of any of the other portraits in this auction. So he says to Michael Cohen, go out and find a straw or go find someone to keep bidding up. So it gets to the highest price and the plan is that they're gonna reimburse this guy. So that does happen. He Bizet up. They get the highest price. And then there is Michael Cohen paying this guy from Donald Trump's foundation. So this is not a high stakes campaign situation. It's not that Trump wants to be on the Forbes billionaire list higher number than he is is nothing. He wants to get a Bank loan and he wants to make his assets presentation look as good as it possibly can. This was a portrait auctioned off and Trump just wanted the bragging rights, and to do that he was potentially willing to cross a legal line because you can't take money from a charitable foundation and use it for non charitable purpose. It was actually really fun watching Twitter while watching the hearings over you sort of had to be there required. A lot of attention to be careful about that around the time that this was happening right after David Farren fold from the Washington Post, who's covered the Trump charity better than anybody. He tweeted this is actually the third portrait of himself that thought real Donald Trump has allegedly bought with his charities money. I knew about a three foot one at a six foot. One. This is a nine foot one that he bought back in twenty thirteen. I knew about the painting. I didn't know charity money was involved. So we really did. Learn new things today. We're gonna leave it there for now. But I am so sure Michael Coen's testimony is something that we will return to again and again in future episodes of Trump Inc. Episode of Trump being produced by Meg primer, and Catherine Sullivan. It was edited by Charlie Herman and Eric sqi Bill. Malls is our technical director. Sam bears are engine near original music. My Hannah's Brown. How many times did Mr. Trump ask you to threaten an individual or entity on his behalf? Quite a few times fifty times more one hundred times more two hundred times more five hundred times probably.