Michael Cohen has revolutionized the time-dishonored tradition of being a rat.
Traditionally, rats begin wearing a wire after they get jammed up.
Cohen may be the first to have started making recordings beforehand.
If this becomes a trend, future rats will have tapes at the ready when they get collared.
“No need to wire me up, I already wired myself!”
The problem for Cohen is that he may not have a recording that could really help him with prosecutors now that he does face serious legal troubles and seems to be entering the traditional rat mode of giving up others to save yourself.
According to CNN, Cohen is now saying that he was present when Donald J. Trump was told in advance by Donald Trump Jr. and approved of the June, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with the Russians who supposed had dirt on Hillary Clinton. But one of Cohen’s lawyers, former Clinton fixer Lanny Davis, then told a reporter at another network, “I have to wonder why the Trump people would put that out. It was not from us.”
If CNN’s reporting stands up — and their “sources familiar” say “Cohen does not have evidence, such as audio recordings, to corroborate his claim, but he is willing to attest to his account” — it will be that much harder to credit Cohen’s claims knowing that he was willing to make audio recordings of Trump at less critical moments. And then there are reports that he failed to mention the supposed conversation between father and son when he testified before two congressional committees last year.
Meanwhile, Davis has offered a unique explanation for why his client, Cohen, did surreptitiously record his client, Trump, at other times, despite his declarations of undying loyalty.
Cohen was simply sparing himself the trouble of taking notes.
Imagine trying that one at the El Caribe, the Brooklyn catering hall and leisure spot that is owned by Cohen’s uncle Morton Levine and was for a long time a mob hangout.
The gym there – which featured racquetball courts and a swimming pool – is said to have served as the headquarters of the first two bosses of the Russian mafia in America.
The first boss was Evsei Agron. His reign was cut short by two bullets in the head outside his Brooklyn apartment.
The new boss and the next to call the El Caribe headquarters was Marat Balagula. He was approached by a hoodlum named Robert Fasano with an identity theft scheme that was ahead of its time.
A young woman named Linda Chipman who worked at Merill Lynch had stolen the particulars of 20 debit card accounts and sold the names and numbers to two Brooklyn men, who then sold them to Fasano.
Fasano counterfeited 20 cards and sought out Balagula, who put him in touch with a number of crooked business owners in Philadelphia who would be described in court papers with an adjective derived from a noun now in common use in matters Russian.
“Collusive merchants,” the court papers said.
The fraudulent purchases came to the attention of a particularly determined Secret Service agent named Henry Bibb, who learned from a witness that the man in collusion with the Russian merchants drove a distinctive, rarely seen car, a white Excalibur.
As the debit card accounts originated in New York and the counterfeits were being used in Philadelphia, Bibb set up surveillance on the New Jersey Turnpike. Along came a white Excalibur with Fasano at the wheel. A search produced the machine he had used to make the counterfeit cards.
“Before long, maybe right then, Fasano decide to rat and he became our rat,” former federal prosecutor John Pucci told The Daily Beast this week.
The traditional next step was to outfit Fasano with a wire. Fasano said he was sure that he could get Balagula talking because they shared a particular difficulty. The resulting tape was played in court.
“The dick problem,” Fasano called their common affliction. “It won’t stand up.”
Along with discussing a pumping device that could serve as a temporary remedy, Fasano got Balagula talking about the identity theft scheme that had raked in some $750,000. Balagula was convicted and was on the run for more than two years, hiding out in South America, Africa and Europe before he was finally arrested in West Germany.
At his long delayed sentencing, Balagula told the court that he greatly regretted his crimes. The prosecutor Pucci noted that Balagula had fought “tooth and nail” not to face justice and suggested the defendant had only one true regret.
“He's sorry he's here,” Pucci told the judge.
Cohen was then in his early 20s and his Uncle Morty had made him a part owner of the El Caribe. Cohen almost certainly noted the sudden absence of the head of the Russian mob and the circumstances that lead to it.
Cohen also likely was aware of a case involving the father of his pal Felix Sater. Michael Sater, whose actual surname is Sheferofsky, was convicted in 2000 of extortion along with a member of the Genovese crime family who had thrown a party at the El Caribe for the nephew of Mafia OG Lucky Luciano. The elder Sater employed the traditional way to secure a reduced sentence.
“The defendant in approximately 2003 brought to the attention of the FBI a 2.1 million dollar check fraud, a Medicaid check fraud, that was being perpetrated in the Polish community of Greenpoint,” the prosecution noted in court papers. “He brought this to attention of the FBI. He wired up against the targets of the investigation.”
The prosecutors continued, “As a result of his proactive cooperation in that case, two defendants were arrested. That case in turn led to other cases in the same community. And, in fact, led to… a 20 defendant case… That is a very very significant piece of cooperation.”
The prosecutors noted, “The people that he wore a body recorder against are not the most safe individuals in this area. So that if he was discovered doing this his life would be at risk.”
Sheferofsky’s son, Felix Sater, was an informant at the same time, in an unrelated case. This was long before Felix went into business with Donald Trump.
There were any number of other people who frequented the El Caribe who were brought down by rats, a good many of whom then became rats themselves. Much the same was true throughout the New York underworld.
But even as the city’s two legged rats seemed almost as numerous as the four-legged ones, nobody save Michael Cohen was so visionary as to become one before there was any immediate cause to do so.
There was no sign that Cohen was likely to be indicted when he wired himself up during the 2016 election and recorded a conversation with Trump about paying to kill a story about a dick problem of another kind with former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Cohen’s recording is not of the best quality and there if some dispute whether — as many folks believe — Trump said, “I’ll pay with cash.” Rudolph Giuliani, who has become Trump's chief fixer-fixer, has insisted Trump is actually saying, “Don't pay with cash.” Giuliani seeks to bolster his contention by citing his considerable experience with recordings as a prosecutor.
“I'm an expert on tapes,” Giuliani said on the Sean Hannity show. “I did 4,000 hours of men on tapes saying, ‘Hey, Racko, what are we going to do today?’”
Whatever was actually said on Cohen’s tape, there is no disputing that he recorded Trump. Cohen apparently did so more than once with Trump and also with a number of other people.
“What kind of lawyer would tape a client?” Trump asked in a tweet that for once seemed entirely reasonable.
After all, this was not a situation where a guy was facing heavy time and agreed in desperation to wear a wire against those who had joined him in a crime.
Unless you want to believe that the recording really was just a substitute for taking notes, Cohen wired himself against his client and supposed liege just in case he ever needed it.
When Trump was elected, Cohen sold his stake in the El Caribe, presumably to avoid being associated with the Russian mob boss Balagula and his ilk.
But the mobsters are the ones who would now be embarrassed. They surely would not want to be associated with a guy who made himself into a rat before anybody with a badge made any overt effort to make him one.
Now that the recording has been played in the court of public opinion just as a more traditional rat’s recording would be played in criminal court, unnamed “associates” tell the Washington Post that Cohen felt Trump had left him “out in the wilderness.”
“In the nearly four months since FBI agents raided his office, home and hotel room, Cohen has felt wounded and abandoned by Trump, waiting for calls or even a signal of support that never came. Cohen got frustrated when Trump started talking about him in the past tense, panicked last month when he thought the president no longer cared about his plight, and became furious when Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani contradicted some of his accounts,” the Post reported, citing “his associates.”
This was all after Cohen got jammed up and the prosecutors were saying an indictment is “likely.”
Back when Cohen made the recording, he had cause to feel slighted, at worst. Poor Mikey had not been included in the campaign and had not been offered a position at the White House.
Ah, but Mikey had a recorder.
And he began using it when he was still pledging that he would take a bullet for Trump.
In the Art of the Squeal, this is known as bullet-shit.
If CNN is right, the problem for Cohen now is that he lacks one recording he needs if he is going to be as successful a rat as was Michael Sheferofsky and make the prosecutors forgive his crimes in exchange for helping to make another case.
Cohen seems to hope that prosecutors will go lightly against him for his many alleged business transgressions in exchange for assisting Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling.
Only, the tapes he does have — and appears to be sharing with the public, rather than with prosecutors — underscore the absence of the one he needs.
And that weakens the credibility of a guy who had already made himself a rat and now seems desperate to become a bigger one.
Bullet-shit don’t fly.