Michael Cohen Thursday: Beginning Portrait of the Greatest Con Artist

Note: I have not read Woodward’s book. This post refers to it based on news reports, including excerpts of the taped interviews that Woodward conducted for it.

One of Cohen’s observations in his book Disloyal about Trump & his early political maneuvers was corroborated by today’s reports of Trump’s taped conversations with Bob Woodward:

Cohen: In those early manifestations of Trump’s aspirations, he revealed an uncanny knack for channeling the fears and resentments of the age . . . .

Just one example was Trump’s call in 1989 for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, a group of black kids convicted of the rape of a white female jogger in Manhattan’s famous park.

The fact that the kids were exonerated years later, when it was proven beyond doubt that they were not guilty, didn’t prompt Trump to back down or admit a mistake; he’d understood instinctively that the racial anxiety and resentments then gripping New York City would provide a potent symbol that he hoped to ride to power.

That was always Trump’s way, learned at the feet of Roy Cohn, his first attack-dog attorney: Never apologize, and never admit to error or weakness. Never. Ever. Not even in the time of Coronavirus, as the world would discover.

As, with Woodward’s disclosures of Trump acknowledging his delays and lies about the seriousness of the pandemic, we have indeed [re]discovered today.

Another Such discovery that Cohen made the hard way is that Trump Not only lies nonstop; he also chronically operates as a classic confidence game swindler, con artist for short. (An excellent explanation of con game frauds is here; it is worth review by all readers, because anyone can fall for such scams.)

Trump’s early con moves with Cohen involved “roping him in” by letting him “share” in popular adulation for Trump. After one encounter with a crowd of fans, Cohen recalled:

I felt like I belonged to something—someone—special and important. It didn’t occur to me that the entire spectacle had been staged for my benefit. Not because I would actually benefit in any way, of course, but that it was part of a performance meant to draw me into Trump’s centrifugal force, precisely in the way a con man draws a mark into his world.

Like a confidence artist, Trump was showing me that he inhabited a different type of reality, one that he would share with me alone, a world that was filled with wonder and excitement and power and intrigue and adulation. All I had to do was do what I was told, without question or a second thought. I didn’t just accept this invitation; I leapt at it. I wasn’t Trump’s mark as much as I was his acolyte, a willing participant in a fantasy that heightened my senses and my sense of self. “Stay close, my man,” Trump whispered to me in the lobby. “These are Trump people. Isn’t this something?”

Cohen did stay close, for over ten years:

For more than a decade, I was Trump’s first call every morning and his last call every night. I was in and out of Trump’s office on the 26th floor of the Trump Tower as many as fifty times a day, tending to his every demand.

Our cell phones had the same address books, our contacts so entwined, overlapping, and intimate that part of my job was to deal with the endless queries and requests, however large or small, from Trump’s countless rich and famous acquaintances. I called any and all of the people he spoke to, most often on his behalf as his attorney and emissary, and everyone knew that when I spoke to them, it was as good as if they were talking directly to Trump.

Apart from his wife and children, I knew Trump better than anyone else did. In some ways, I knew him better than even his family did, because I bore witness to the real man, in strip clubs, shady business meetings, and in the unguarded moments when he revealed who he really was: a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.

There are reasons why there has never been an intimate portrait of Donald Trump, the man. In part, it’s because he has a million acquaintances, pals, and hangers on, but no real friends. He has no one he trusts to keep his secrets. For ten years, he certainly had me, and I was always there for him, and look what happened to me. 

But Cohen is not asking for mercy or pity here.  He was more than a guilty bystander:

. . . I wasn’t just a witness to the President’s rise—I was an active and eager participant.

To underscore that last crucial point, let me say now that I had agency in my relationship with Trump. I made choices along the way—terrible, heartless, stupid, cruel, dishonest, destructive choices, but they were mine and constituted my reality and life. . . .

For all the hard truths I spoke about Trump, I wasn’t entirely critical of him, nor will I be in these pages. I said I know Trump as a human being, not a cartoon character on television, and that means I know he’s full of contradictions.

“Mr. Trump is an enigma,” I testified to [a congressional] committee. “He is complicated, as am I. He does both good and bad, as do we all. But the bad far outweighs the good, and since taking office, he has become the worst version of himself. He is capable of behaving kindly, but he is not kind. He is capable of committing acts of generosity, but he is not generous. He is capable of being loyal, but he is fundamentally disloyal.”

Disloyalty. Not only disloyal to spouses, aides like Cohen (and so many others), hundreds of thousands of customers and clients; but also disloyal to 190,000 dead Americans he had taken an oath to protect.

There will be more.

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