Michael Cohen, former personal attorney for President Donald Trump, leaves the U.S. Capitol after testifying before a closed House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on February 28, 2019.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
Podcasts make for strange bedfellows.
Michael Cohen, who worked as Donald Trump’s personal attorney and fixer for years, is now allied with people investigating the former president – and uses a podcast to promote both his criticism and fellow critics of Trump.
Cohen’s ironically titled show “Mea Culpa” – a Latin phrase for “through my fault” – premiered last year with Rosie O’Donnell, a longtime Trump target, who made teenage cracks in her personal looks, among other things.
Cohen, 54, recently featured porn actress Stormy Daniels as a guest on his show. In 2016, Cohen paid her $ 130,000 to buy her pre-election silence over her claim that she had sex with Trump once years ago.
“You and I have both gone through hell and back,” Cohen said to Daniels. “I’m sorry for the unnecessary pain I caused you.”
“Our stories will forever be linked to Donald Trump, but also to each other,” Cohen said.
That’s probably an understatement.
Trump denies Daniels’ claim and also denies allegations of an affair with another woman, Playboy model Karen McDougal, who herself received hush money from the Trump-friendly editor of The National Enquirer before the 2016 election.
Trump and his company, the Trump Organization, reimbursed Cohen for the payoff from Daniels.
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on this article.
The discovery of this payment led to a federal criminal investigation into Cohen, a Manhattan resident who pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating the financial rules for organizing the Daniels and McDougal payouts, as well as other financial crimes unrelated to Trump fight.
Cohen, who was sentenced to three years in prison, said Trump directed him to arrange the hush money deals so as not to affect his chances of winning the presidency.
These payments were likely the first issue investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, Cyrus Vance Jr. It examined how the Trump organization accounted for them.
However, court records suggest that the investigation may now have expanded to include potential banking and insurance fraud, as well as tax crimes.
These areas became a focus after Cohen Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y., said during a testimony to Congress in early 2019 that Trump provided insurance companies with excessive real estate values and undervalued assets in an effort to cut his taxes.
“They dump the asset’s value and then file a request with the tax department for a deduction,” Cohen told Ocasio-Cortez.
New York attorney general Letitia James credited Cohen’s testimony for launching her own ongoing civilian investigation into the Trump Organization’s asset valuations.
“I’m ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He’s a racist. He’s a cheater. He’s a cheater,” Cohen said during his testimony. He also called himself a “fool” for working for Trump and believing in him for so long.
Even when he was in jail, Cohen helped Vance’s probe, and he reportedly continued to help after being released from jail last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The concept for creating the podcast came when I was on leave,” Cohen told CNBC in an interview.
“Mea Culpa” promotes its host as a man who “once vowed to take a ball for the president”.
“But that was before the country was brought to its knees by the president’s own lies and personal insanity,” the podcast’s homepage reads.
“Now, locked in his house, his life, reputation and livelihood shattered, Cohen is on a mission to correct the wrongs he committed on behalf of his boss.”
Transport and goods
For someone released from jail less than a year ago, Cohen’s podcast, which now has more than 50 episodes in its archive, has done very well and is at times among the top 10 political podcasts in the US on Apple and other platforms.
“We’re increasing our audience by over 20% week in, week out,” said Cohen.
“Am I surprised?” Cohen replied when asked if it was him. “I’m happy about it. I don’t want to be surprised.”
Rob Ellin, CEO of digital media company LiveXLive, said of Cohen’s podcast, “Traffic is just skyrocketing.
“The competition from podcasts is much tougher than it used to be,” said Ellin. But he added, “I can’t think of anyone who showed up as quickly as him.”
Ellin’s publicly traded company owns PodcastOne, which sells and handles sales for “Mea Culpa,” and another company that does the merchandising for the podcast. Another unaffiliated company, Audio Up, produces “Mea Culpa”.
Cohen’s show this week added a new clothing line for sale that reflects his current take on Trump.
Items include inmate orange jumpsuit that may contain the initials “DJT” – which also happens to be Trump’s initials – or the seal of the President of the United States over the left breast pocket.
Cohen told CNBC the merchandise was inspired by a rift he made about Trump last week after the US Supreme Court ruled against the ex-president to prevent the prosecutor’s office from filing his tax returns and other financial records to receive from his accountants as part of his criminal investigation.
“He should maybe start talking to someone about custom jumpsuit because it doesn’t look good, that’s my prediction,” Cohen told MSNBC’s Katy Tur.
Ellin said Cohen’s criticism of Trump, coupled with the accelerated pace of the DA and New York AG probes, was a justification for his friend and a driver of interest in “Mea Culpa.”
“Michael said a lot of it,” said Ellin.
“A lot of people didn’t believe him before and are starting to believe him.”
Two years before the January 6th invasion of the Capitol by a crowd of Trump supporters seeking to undo the affirmation that day of President Joe Biden’s election, Cohen warned Congress: “Given my experience with Mr. Trump, I’m afraid that if he loses the 2020 election, there will never be a peaceful change of power. “
Trump was indicted by the House of Representatives shortly before he left office on January 20 for instigating the invasion of Congress with false claims of electoral fraud. He was acquitted by the Senate in a lawsuit last month.
Cohen’s podcast discussed the Capitol uprising in an episode that also included an interview with actor and filmmaker Ben Stiller. Another episode was titled “Why Trump Must Be Indicted”.
Friendship and opportunity
Rob Ellin, LiveXLive Media
Source: LiveXLive Media
Ellin has been friends with Cohen since they played tennis together in Long Island High School.
Both Cohen and Ellin describe this period ironically, including playing doubles against opponents that include Patrick McEnroe, brother of tennis legend John McEnroe, and himself a future professional player.
“I think we won 2 points,” Ellin said of the match in which Cohen yelled at him to adjust to McEnroe’s shots.
“Wasn’t that when I smashed the bat?” he asked Cohen while on a call with CNBC.
Cohen and Ellin both remember inventing the phrase “hug it, b —-” to smooth out their sometimes inconsistent arguments on the tennis court.
Ellin’s brother, Douglas Reed Ellin, later used it as one of the signature phrases for the HBO television series “Entourage” which he created.
Despite their four decades of friendship, the connection between Ellin’s company and Cohen’s podcast was the result of chance.
Months after the launch of “Mea Culpa” last summer, the podcast’s distribution platform was moved to PodcastOne. This company, founded by the founder of radio giant Westwood One, Norm Pattiz, has since been taken over by LiveXLive, Ellin’s company.
Cohen said he was on the phone with PodcastOne one day when he was told that Ellin happened to be in the room.
“I said, ‘Put him on the speakerphone with me,'” Cohen said.
Cohen said doing business with Ellin was “incredible”.
“But it brings me back a lot of nostalgia, whichever is the same,” added Cohen.
Ellin also has a warm personal feeling for Cohen, whom he called “a great father and a great husband”.
“I think Michael is humble,” said Ellin. “That was painful.”
But Ellin sees the business opportunity on his friend’s podcast too.
“We now have the opportunity to help Michael,” by attracting more high-profile guests and expanding marketing opportunities, Ellin said. “Who knows? There could be a second podcast.”
Adam Carolla, a radio host and comedian, recently made crossover appearances with Cohen on “Mea Culpa” and his own high-profile podcast, distributed by PodcastOne.
“It was just a great engagement between the two of them,” said Ellin. “Michael did a great job as an initial radio host at staying in the ring with him.”
Ellin credits Cohen for having the moxie to reinvent himself as a podcast host.
“He’s not afraid to take a swing,” said Ellin. “I think he did an exceptional job driving this.”