Timeline: How Cohen turned on Trump
Michael Cohen’s guilty plea on Tuesday to eight counts of fraud and campaign finance violations marks a stunning reversal of fortune for a man who was once President Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer.
Cohen, who once said he would “take a bullet” for the president, instead delivered a legal blow to Trump, implicating him in a felony and inviting a furious blowback from the president’s allies.
Cohen told the court that he was acting at Trump’s direction when he shortly before the election paid off two women who alleged affairs with the president a decade ago for their silence, an admission that startled Washington.
Cohen might not be finished yet. His lawyer Lanny Davis has also hinted at Cohen cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Davis is a columnist for The Hill.
Here’s a timeline looking back on how Cohen went from being one of Trump’s trusted confidants to implicating the president in a felony.
Cohen starts working for Trump as his personal lawyer, a post he will hold for the next 10 years. As an attorney with the Trump Organization, where he serves as vice president, Cohen is reportedly more of a “deal-maker” than a lawyer, often managing international projects.
Cohen becomes an informal adviser to the Trump campaign.
Cohen helps facilitate a $150,000 payment to former Playboy Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal, who is trying to sell her story about an alleged affair with Trump that started in 2006. In the deal that Cohen helps arrange, the company that owns the National Enquirer, American Media Inc., pays for McDougal’s story and never runs it, a practice known as a “catch and kill.” The payment will not become public until The Wall Street Journal reports on it months later.
Cohen arranges a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, who also alleged a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.
Nov. 4, 2016
The Wall Street Journal reports on American Media Inc.’s payment to McDougal over her story about Trump, but the article does not mention Cohen.
Cohen reportedly hires his own lawyer as his role on the Trump campaign and his close ties to the president attract scrutiny from the special counsel probe.
Sept. 6, 2017
In a Vanity Fair profile, Cohen says that he would be willing to “take a bullet” for Trump.
He makes the statement as he prepares to appear before the House Intelligence Committee regarding alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. He hits back at former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon’s claim that he is a leaker.
“I’m the guy who stops the leaks,” he says. “I’m the guy who protects the president and the family. I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president.”
Jan. 12, 2018
The Wall Street Journal reports that Cohen had arranged the payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. The report notes that Daniels ahead of the election signed a nondisclosure agreement that prevented her from speaking out about her alleged sexual relationship with Trump.
Cohen denies Daniels’s claims about the president and shares a statement she signed at the time of the payment denying any “sexual and/or romantic affair” with Trump.
Feb. 13, 2018
Cohen admits to The New York Times that he made the payment to Daniels, but claims he did it out of his own pocket and did not violate campaign finance laws.
“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” Cohen says.
March 6, 2018
With the help of attorney Michael Avenatti, Daniels sues Trump and Cohen to void the nondisclosure agreement that prevents her from speaking out about her experiences with the president.
“To be clear, the attempts to intimidate Ms. Clifford into silence and ‘shut her up’ in order to ‘protect Mr. Trump’ continue unabated,” the lawsuit says.
April 5, 2018
Trump denies knowing about the payment to Daniels while speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One. He refers those questions to Cohen.
“You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” the president says when asked why Cohen would make the payment from his own funds. “Michael is my attorney.”
April 9, 2018
The FBI raids Cohen’s home, office and hotel room, acting on orders from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. The office was reportedly alerted by Mueller to possible criminal activity by Cohen.
Trump is enraged by the seizures and the next morning tweets “Attorney-client privilege is dead!”
April 21, 2018
Trump slams a report in The New York Times that the president’s legal team is bracing for Cohen to “flip” and expresses confidence that Cohen will remain loyal to him.
“The New York Times and a third rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a Crooked H flunkie who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with, are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip,’ ” Trump tweets.
“Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!” he adds.
May 2, 2018
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani says the president repaid Cohen for the payment to Daniels in an interview on Fox News’s “Hannity.”
“[The payment was] funneled through a law firm, and the president repaid it,” Giuliani says. The astonishing statement from Giuliani, who had recently joined the Trump legal team, contradicts prior statements from the president that he knew nothing about the payment.
Giuliani throughout the day repeatedly says Trump repaid Cohen over several months to ensure there was no campaign finance violation, claiming it was “perfectly legal.”
July 2, 2018
Cohen says in an interview that his “first loyalty” is to his “family and country,” not the president, sparking speculation that he may flip on Trump.
“My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” Cohen tells ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos. “I put family and country first.”
Days later, Cohen hires Davis, an ex-Clinton administration official, as his personal lawyer.
July 8, 2018
Giuliani says he’s advised Trump not to discuss the possibility of pardoning Cohen until the investigations are complete. In a startling statement he downplays concerns about Cohen flipping, saying “Michael Cohen should cooperate with the government. We have no reason to believe he did anything wrong.”
July 24, 2018
Cohen’s attorney Davis sets off a firestorm when he releases a secretly made audio recording to CNN of Trump and Cohen discussing the payment to McDougal.
In the recording, which Cohen secretly taped as Trump was running for president in 2016, Trump and Cohen discuss buying the rights to her story. The tape was one of 12 seized in the raids on Cohen.
Cohen tells Trump “we’ll have to pay” for the story. Trump is heard saying “pay with cash,” but it is not clear from the audio whether Trump is suggesting Cohen pay or not.
Giuliani says the tape is “powerful exculpatory evidence” that the president did no wrong.
Aug. 21, 2018
Cohen pleads guilty to bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance law violations in the Southern District of New York.
Cohen tells a federal court that he violated campaign finance laws “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.” He does not say Trump’s name but his account to the court matches up with the previously reported payments to Daniels and McDougal.
In what many see as the worst day for Trump’s presidency so far, the guilty plea comes just minutes apart from former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort being found guilty on eight felony bank and tax fraud charges in Virginia.
At a rally in West Virginia that evening, Trump doesn’t mention Cohen or Manafort.
Aug. 22, 2018
Trump expresses sympathy for Manfort but lashes out at Cohen, whom he accuses of lying to get a plea deal.
“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” Trump tweets. ” ‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’ Such respect for a brave man!”
In another tweet, Trump says that anyone looking for a “good lawyer” should not “retain the services of Michael Cohen!”
He claims that the payments arranged by Cohen didn’t break the law and denied knowing about them at the time.
The White House also insists that Trump “did nothing wrong” with Cohen.
Raising the stakes for both sides, Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, says his client “would never accept” a pardon from Trump.