Seth Hettena and I have been disagreeing about RussiaGate since the outset, but I want to give a shout out to his new book, Trump/Russia: A Definitive History, which will be published May 8. A fascinating excerpt from it ran yesterday in Rolling Stone, under the title, “A Brief History of Michael Cohen’s Criminal Ties: From the Russian mob to money launderers, Trump’s personal attorney has long been a subject of interest to federal investigators.”
Actually, Seth — a long-time investigative reporter for the Associated Press — and I don’t disagree about everything, but I’m a lot less persuaded than he is about whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
But we both agree that Michael Cohen, whose offices were raided yesterday, is a shady figure and that Cohen’s relationship with Trump and Russia raises a lot of questions. I’ve been told by someone very familiar with Cohen’s history that he was utterly beloved by Trump because he was able to move a lot of secret money into Trump’s real estate projects by exploiting attorney-client privilege. (If a lawyer handles a real estate transaction, it’s a lot harder for the relevant regulatory agencies to review, in the rare case here they are generally inclined, because of privilege.)
Here’s a brief section from the Rolling Stone excerpt:
Cohen joined the Trump Organization in 2006, and eventually became Trump’s personal lawyer, a role once occupied by Roy Cohn, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s heavy-lidded hatchet man during the Red Scare who advised Trump in the 1980s. Michael Cohen’s bare-knuckled tactics earned him the nickname of “Tom,” a reference to Tom Hagen, the consigliore to Mafia Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather. He grew up on Long Island, the son of a physician who survived the Holocaust in Poland, and like Tom Hagen spent a childhood around organized crime, specifically the Russian Mafiya. Cohen’s uncle, Morton Levine, was a wealthy Brooklyn doctor who owned the El Caribe Country Club, a Brooklyn catering hall and event space that was a well-known hangout for Russian gangsters. Cohen and his siblings all had ownership stakes in the club, which rented for years to the first Mafiya boss of Brighton Beach, Evsei Agron, along with his successors, Marat Balagula and Boris Nayfeld. (Cohen’s uncle said his nephew gave up his stake in the club after Trump’s election.)
I spoke to two former federal investigators who told me Cohen was introduced to Donald Trump by his father-in-law, Fima Shusterman, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ukraine who arrived in the U.S. in 1975. Shusterman was in the garment business and owned a fleet of taxicabs with his partners, Shalva Botier and Edward Zubok – all three men were convicted of a money-laundering related offense in 1993. “Fima may have been a (possibly silent) business partner with Trump, perhaps even used as a conduit for Russian investors in Trump properties and other ventures,” a former federal investigator told me. “Cohen, who married into the family, was given the job with the Trump Org as a favor to Shusterman.” (“Untrue,” Cohen told me. “Your source is creating fake news.”)
Anyway, read the article and buy the book, whatever your views on RussiaGate.