As a fixer, Michael Cohen is a disaster.
Charged with protecting then-candidate Donald Trump from the negative publicity that would arise from his alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, he created Essential Consultants, a company which tried -- and, as the last few months prove, failed -- to buy her silence for $130,000.
And after Trump became president, Cohen kept using Essential Consultants to do business with clients who sought his advice on financial matters and dealings with the Trump administration. Millions of dollars flowed into the firm from companies that believed, for the right price, the President's fixer could assist them.
Now it seems the firm that Cohen used to help get Trump elected could threaten the presidency.
We know that Cohen is the man behind Essential Consultants because he signed the paperwork that established it as a limited liability company. The rules governing LLCs allow those who create them to hide their identities. Cohen's signature is the sign of an amateur at work and belies his claim to be Trump's best problem solver.
But let's break down Cohen's fixer issues even further. Essential Consultants' first product, the hush agreement with Daniels, may not have been fully executed and is now subject to Stormy Daniels' legal challenge, which is being pursued by attorney Michael Avenatti.
To watch Avenatti at work, in the legal system as well as the court of public opinion, is to witness a craftsman at the height of his abilities. Given the opening provided by Cohen's contract, Avenatti has gathered evidence to construct a clear narrative with steady revelations that threaten both Cohen and Trump. Avenatti's ability to capture attention rivals even Trump's, as he hints at bombshell revelations and then delivers on his promises.
Avenatti's most recent disclosures show that Cohen used Essential Consultants to bill corporate clients, including one, Columbus Nova, an investment firm run by Andrew Intrater, a cousin of Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. As a friend of Vladimir Putin, Vekselberg, who was recently subject to US sanctions, is the kind of character both Cohen and Trump should avoid at all costs. Instead Cohen allegedly accepted $500,000 from Columbus Nova.
According to Avenatti, Essential Consultants LLC also took in more than $4 million since it was created at the close of the 2016 election. Avenatti claims that $187,500 came from Republican donor Elliott Broidy. The Wall Street Journal reports that Essential Consultants then paid $1.6 million in hush money to Playboy model Shera Bechard, who had an abortion after, she alleges, Broidy impregnated her.
The agreement that was supposed to cover up the alleged Broidy/Bechard affair employs the same pseudonyms, "David Dennison" and "Peggy Peterson," that were used to hide the identities of the principals in agreement between Daniels and Trump. This practice suggests that Cohen was using legal boilerplate and was too lazy to even create original fake names.
Meanwhile, several of the other payments that Avenatti alleges Cohen received show that he had been trying to cash in on his relationship with Trump. One of Essential Consultants' clients, the communications giant AT&T, said it paid the LLC at least $200,000 for "insights into the new administration." Notably, at the time, AT&T was in need of government approval for its potential merger with CNN's parent company, Time Warner.
According to the health news journal STAT, Cohen offered Essential Consultants' services to the drug giant Novartis, which is regulated by the US government. After acknowledging the company dumped $1.2 million into Essential Consultants, a spokesman said, "This episode was clearly a mistake."
Only a naïf would fail to see that Cohen was selling himself as a conduit to the new administration, which would make him the kind of swamp monster Trump promised to evict from the shadowy pools of politics. Even worse for the President is the scent of foreign interference created by Essential Consultants' association with Vekselberg.
Why would Columbus Nova pay Cohen? The better question would be why would Cohen take the money and use Essential Consultants to do it? Here it helps to understand Cohen's past and his personality.
Cohen has a long record of contacts with rich immigrants from the former Soviet Union and, according to The New York Times, built his own "shadowy" business empire with their help. For example, he teamed up with his father-in-law to lend $25 million to a Ukrainian businessman known for defaulting on loans. According to the Times, he was also part owner of a Brooklyn catering hall that served as an office for "two of New York's most notorious Russian mobsters."
The shadowy associations were consistent with Cohen's image as the tough guy who goes after the boss's critics and deals with threats, perceived and real, to the Trump empire.
At times, Cohen has seemed to enjoy being a figure whose very name should provoke fear in the hearts of those who would challenge his client. The most notable example of his method was a profane tirade he issued against a journalist whom he promised to harass "for as long as you're on this frickin' planet" if he published a salacious story about Trump.
The bullying was a fairly effective homage to Trump, but in his other attempts to copy his employer, Cohen proved to be inept. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of Essential Consultants.
In his decadeslong career marked by bankruptcies and controversies, Trump was exceedingly careful about protecting himself. Indeed, the very fact that he used Cohen as a so-called fixer indicates that he was willing to pay good money so that he could act with impunity -- and without the kind of consequences Cohen faces in his battle with Avenatti.
The saga of Essential Consultants proves that Cohen is no Trump. He may not even be a very good Cohen. If he were, the stuff he was supposed to fix would have stayed fixed. Instead, he has set his own life on fire, and the flames now threaten the President.