Michael Cohen. Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney and "fixer" who has since spoken out against his former client and employer, has filed suit against the Trump Organization alleging it was supposed to cover his attorney fees and costs incurred in his work for the company, including his cooperation with federal investigators.
In his suit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, Cohen alleges that he has incurred millions in attorney fees for ongoing investigations and litigation, including the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and numerous hearings before congressional committees.
In terms of the work Cohen did on behalf of the company, his suit rehashes much of what he has already said publicly in a federal court in Manhattan, during congressional testimony and in media interviews.
Specifically, Cohen says he worked in 2016 on an arrangement in which the parent company for National Enquirer would pay $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal for the rights to her story about an affair she had with Trump—a practice known as “catch and kill.”
Cohen also says that in 2016 he paid $130,000 to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, for her to keep quiet about an affair she had with Trump.
As Cohen has said in various appearances as a witness, he made the payment arrangements at then-candidate Trump’s direction. Last August, Cohen pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to eight charges that included campaign finance violations, bank fraud and tax evasion.
Cohen joined the Trump Organization in 2006 as an executive vice president and was tasked with working on issues related to real estate deals; from September 2015 to June 2016, Cohen alleges, he worked on behalf of the company on a project to develop a Trump-branded property in Moscow.
In November, he pleaded guilty to an additional charge of lying to Congress about the Moscow project.
Cohen claims that, as of Jan. 25, he had incurred more than $1.9 million in costs for his work for the Trump Organization that was supposed to be covered by an indemnification agreement with the company, and said that he continues to incur legal fees related to various ongoing cases in state and federal courts, as well as preparation for testimony before two congressional committees.
With respect to the Mueller probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Cohen says he first met with the special counsel’s office in August 2018 and has provided more than 70 hours of testimony.
The lawsuit comes after dueling contentions were raised by Cohen’s team and Trump’s attorney, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, about whether or not Cohen sought a promise of a presidential pardon as federal investigators began circling Cohen last year.
The New York Times reported that Cohen alerted federal prosecutors in Manhattan to conversations an attorney had on his behalf with Giuliani. The conversations raised concerns both about the potential undue influence of Trump’s pardon power on federal criminal investigation targets, as well as standing in contrast to Cohen’s own testimony before Congress this month that neither sought, nor would accept, a presidential pardon.
A March 6 statement from Lanny Davis, a lawyer and spokesman for Cohen, said his client had been “open” to discussion about a possible pardon prior to his decision in July 2018 to leave the joint defense group agreement he had with the president.
“During that time period, he directed his attorney to explore possibilities of a pardon at one point with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani as well as other lawyers advising President Trump,” Davis said.
That all changed after the defense agreement was severed, according to Davis, who said Cohen’s statement about never accepting a pardon even if it was offered remained true.
“That continues to be the case. And his statement at the Oversight Hearing was true—and consistent with his post joint defense agreement commitment to tell the truth,” Davis said.
Cohen was disbarred by the Appellate Division, First Department’s grievance committee in Manhattan on Feb. 26 in the wake of his guilty pleas to federal felony charges.
In a statement released late Thursday, Cohen’s attorney and spokesman Lanny Davis suggest that, like other recent imbroglios Cohen claims to have supporting evidence, his new suit would similarly survive scrutiny.
“Stubborn facts backed up by documents, such as signed criminal hush money checks, can’t be ignored — unless you are President Trump and his apologists,” Davis said “While I’m not involved in this lawsuit, rest assured, Michael Cohen has documents to prove the allegations in this complaint as well.”
Trump Organization attorney Alan Futerfas declined to comment when reached by the Law Journal.
Cohen is represented in his state suit, which was filed in Manhattan’s Commercial Division, by Binder & Schwartz partner Eric Fisher. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Michael Cohen. Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM