Opinion: Michael Cohen Is No Hero

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters

When businessman Wendell Willkie (who had been a Democrat) won the GOP nomination in 1940, one Republican Party stalwart memorably quipped: “I don’t mind the church converting a whore, but I don’t like her to lead the choir the first night.”

This is precisely how I feel regarding a slew of former Donald Trump enablers turned “resistance” rock stars, including ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, a convicted criminal who says he paid “hush money” to cover up Trump’s alleged tryst with porn star Stormy Daniels.

Since turning against his former boss (presumably, in an attempt to reduce his prison sentence), Cohen has tried to transition from mafia-esque thug to media darling.

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This week, his biggest chance to parlay his 15 minutes of fame into something more will arrive as he takes center stage in Trump’s New York trial, a moment that could serve as the culmination of Cohen’s “redemption tour.”

Post-Trump, Cohen (who has a history of threatening journalists) has been trotted out on cable news as a guest. He has a podcast on the MeidasTouch network, he has written books, he has publicly flirted with running for Congress as a Democrat in New Jersey, and he is currently pitching a reality show called, “The Fixer.”

This is the kind of shameless self-promotion that you might expect from a guy who—even before turning on “Mr. Trump”—paid someone to create and run a @WomenForCohen Twitter feed.

Keep in mind, Cohen was not some dewy-eyed kid who got caught up with a bad crowd for a minute. Back in 2019, Cohen told Congress that Trump ordered him to threaten something like 500 individuals or entities, over the course of a decade.

As Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said of Cohen, “He would still be a loyal Trump soldier if Trump hadn’t been willing to discard him like a piece of bad fruit.”

Please do not think I am doing Trump’s bidding by dredging up Cohen’s history today; I’d welcome an outcome where Cohen’s testimony helps convict Trump for his many misdeeds.

And the truth is, if you’re looking for witnesses who can testify about what it’s like inside Trump’s organization, you will, inexorably, end up with some dodgy folks. A wise man once said, “You want to find an outlaw, you call an outlaw.” I suppose the same could be said for convicting one.

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Whether we’re talking about Daniels, ex-National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, or Cohen, the people who have dirt on Donald Trump are, at best, unlikely heroes with dubious backgrounds.

Likewise, the former Trump staffers who have turned on Trump (for example, Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony before the Jan. 6 Committee) were only in the position to inform the public about what Trump did or said behind-closed-doors because they first signed up to work for him.

At this point, I should probably confess that it is frustrating to see so many people who benefitted from helping elevate Trump now also cash in (monetarily and in terms of the attention economy) by helping take him down.

My wife (who works for a non-profit that distributes naloxone to states) tells me that some of the same pharmaceutical companies that were found guilty of pushing opioids are now profiting from selling naloxone (a drug that can reverse an overdose) to the same states they flooded with opioids.

The media has seen a similar dynamic as many of the same people who helped give us President Trump, did a “face” turn and snarfed up Never Trump TV contributorships, lucrative speaking gigs, and prestigious book deals.

To be sure, the sins committed by most of these erstwhile Trump staffers pale in comparison to the things that Cohen did over the years to help Trump avoid accountability (and get to the White House).

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That’s not to say Cohen should be drummed out of polite society forever. Movements don’t succeed by keeping converts out. People aren’t going to flip on Trump if they fear that their past indiscretions will haunt them forever.

But not everybody who becomes a useful ally is trustworthy or should be celebrated and elevated.

Back when conservatives were eager to buddy up with B-list celebs like Ted Nugent, Victoria Jackson, and (yes) Trump—just because they said mean things about Barack Obama—I cautioned against it.

Today, I have similar advice for my friends in Never Trump circles: By all means, root for Michael Cohen to take down Donald Trump. But he is not your friend. He does not share your values. He is not a hero.

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