Michael Cohen Has Said He Would Take a Bullet for Trump. Maybe Not Anymore.

For years, a joke among Trump Tower employees was that the boss was like Manhattan’s First Avenue, where the traffic goes only one way.

That one-sidedness has always been at the heart of President Trump’s relationship with his longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, who has said he would “take a bullet” for Mr. Trump. For years Mr. Trump treated Mr. Cohen poorly, with gratuitous insults, dismissive statements and, at least twice, threats of being fired, according to interviews with a half-dozen people familiar with their relationship.

.. “Donald goes out of his way to treat him like garbage,” said Roger J. Stone Jr.

..  Mr. Trump’s lawyers and advisers have become resigned to the strong possibility that Mr. Cohen, who has a wife and two children and faces the prospect of devastating legal fees, if not criminal charges, could end up cooperating with federal officials

.. The trove included documents dating back decades

.. since the raid Mr. Cohen has told associates he feels isolated.

.. Mr. Trump has long felt he had leverage over Mr. Cohen, but people who have worked for the president said the raid has changed all that.

.. “Ironically, Michael now holds the leverage over Trump,” said Sam Nunberg

.. Mr. Nunberg said that Mr. Cohen “should maximize” that leverage.

.. “The softer side of the president genuinely has an affection for Michael,” Mr. Nunberg said. For instance, Mr. Trump attended the bar and bat mitzvahs of Mr. Cohen’s children. “However, the president has also taken Michael for granted.” Mr. Nunberg added that “whenever anyone complains to me about Trump screwing them over, my reflexive response is that person has nothing to complain about compared to Michael.”

..Mr. Stone recalled Mr. Trump saying of Mr. Cohen, “He owns some of the finest Trump real estate in the country — paid top dollar for it, too.” In Mr. Trump’s worldview, there are few insults more devastating than saying someone overpaid.

.. whom he has admired since high school.

.. He has told interviewers that he has never heard Mr. Trump utter an inaccuracy or break a promise.

.. “He clearly doesn’t think that Michael Cohen is his Roy Cohn,” said Tim O’Brien, a Trump biographer, referring to Mr. Trump’s former mentor and the president’s ideal for a pit bull-like defender. “I think his abusive behavior to Michael is animated by his feeling that Michael is inadequate.”

.. Prosecutors have argued that Mr. Cohen did little actual legal work for Mr. Trump

.. When Mr. Trump ran for president in 2016, Mr. Cohen was given no official role on the campaign.

.. Particularly hurtful to Mr. Cohen was the way Mr. Trump lavished approval on Mr. Lewandowski in a way he never did for Mr. Cohen. When Mr. Cohen told Mr. Trump that he believed that Mr. Lewandowski had been behind a negative story about Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump dismissed the comments as simple jealousy, and didn’t pay attention, according to two people familiar with the incident.

The Trumpist Gets Trumped

Bannon thinks he created Trump, and Trump thinks he created Bannon. They had a fundamental disagreement about who was using whom, and in any such conflict, the president of the United States is going to win.

.. The Trump statement on Bannon is — of course — exaggerated and overly harsh. It nonetheless nails important things about the former White House official. He was an inveterate leaker and poisonous infighter. Some of Bannon’s energy was devoted to trying to destroy Trump’s notably noncorrupt and nonkooky national security adviser, H.R. McMaster. Most of it, though, was directed at Trump’s children and son-in-law.

.. Bannon also is a flagrant self-promoter. By any reasonable standard, it’s quite a comedown to go from working a few paces from the Oval Office to running a shoddy website devoid of true journalistic interest.

.. his fundraising just got much harder. Part of Bannon’s appeal to candidates was bringing the imprimatur of Trump, and that, too, has been dented.

.. At the beginning of 2016, it seemed that Steve Bannon could be a figure like Karl Rove or David Axelrod, a political strategist with outsize influence over policy who existed at the very top of our national politics for years. Instead, he’s been kicked to the curb more brutally than any presidential aide in modern history.

.. This, obviously, has much to do with Trump himself, who is volatile, jealous of media attention, and insistent that loyalty runs only one way, up to him.

.. He had no idea how to effect his dream of a protectionist, isolationist administration spending massively on infrastructure and raising taxes on the rich. His vision lacked support within the administration and in Washington more broadly.

.. Trump’s base is Trump’s. No one ever voted for Steve Bannon, and now he is on the wrong side of the president in whose name he has presumed to speak.

Trump always lashes out when he’s cornered. He told me so years ago.

The president’s tweets and public remarks will only get wilder as the Russia investigation narrows.

In less than two hours, he managed to criticize his own FBI; peddle a new conspiracy theory; attack James B. Comey, Hillary Clinton and ABC; and draw more attention to the Russia probe that has already implicated several of his aides.
.. As someone who spent hundreds of hours observing Trump so I could write “The Art of the Deal,” I find his increasingly extreme behavior entirely consistent and predictable.
.. For five decades now, Trump’s pattern has been that the more aggrieved and vulnerable he feels, the more intensely he doubles down on the behaviors that have always worked for him in the past.
Sunday’s tweetstorm won’t be the last time the president indulges in self-pity, deceit and deflection. In all likelihood, it will get worse.
.. Trump’s first move in the face of criticism has always been to assume the role of victim. “Unfair” has long been one of his favorite words. He always perceives himself as the victim, so he feels justified in lashing back at his perceived accusers.

.. Here’s how he explained the tactic in “The Art of the Deal”:

“When people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard.”

And this:

“Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition.”

In the weeks ahead, Trump will also probably double down on lying, even as he falsely accuses others of being dishonest. Consider his remarkable recent suggestion to aides that his remarks on the “Access Hollywood” tape about assaulting women might not be real — even though he has already publicly acknowledged that they were his, and apologized for them. Trump regularly rewrites his narrative, using what Kellyanne Conway has called “alternative facts,” to fit whatever he wants to believe and convey in any given moment. This is classic “gaslighting” — a blend of lying, denial, insistence and intimidation designed to fuel uncertainty and doubt in others about what’s actually true.

In the time I spent with Trump, I concluded that lying became second nature to him long ago, both because he lacked any conscience about being deceptive and because he discovered that he could get away with it. “Truthful hyperbole” is the sanitized term I gave lying in “The Art of the Deal,” with Trump’s blessing. I have never met someone, before or since, who was untruthful so effortlessly.

In Trump’s mind, he is only doing what’s required to win. Here’s the way he describes himself in “The Art of the Deal”: “Despite what people think, I’m not looking to be the bad guy when it isn’t absolutely necessary.”

.. The more threatened Trump feels by troublesome facts, the more preposterous the lies he will tell.

.. To get the outcome he wants, he’s willing to be scorned, parodied and even reviled in ways most of us are not. “I’m the first to admit,” he said in “The Art of the Deal,” “that I am very competitive and that I’ll do nearly anything within legal bounds to win.” He is willing to flatter, cajole and seduce, or bully, threaten and humiliate, depending on which approach he thinks will work best.

..  I watched him switch between these modes countless times during the 18 months I spent around him.

.. If he was getting what he wanted from someone on a call, he’d invariably sign off with, “You’re the greatest, you’re the best.” If he wasn’t getting his way, he was equally comfortable hurling insults and making threats.

.. The more frequent and aggressive Trump’s tweets become, the more threatened and vulnerable he is probably feeling. But he also knows that this approach can work.

.. The other predictable pattern for Trump is his approach to loyalty. He expects it unconditionally — more so when his behaviors prompt backlash — but he provides it only as long as he gets unquestioning adulation in return.

.. One of the most revealing relationships in Trump’s life was with Roy Cohn, best known as the chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy

.. For more than a decade, Cohn fought hard on Trump’s behalf and was fiercely loyal to him. They often spoke multiple times in a day. But when Cohn became ill with AIDS in 1984, Trump dropped him immediately.

..  I can’t remember a single occasion during the time I spent around Trump when he seemed genuinely interested in the welfare of another human being, including any of his three then-young children. And at that time, he was under vastly less stress than he is now. If either Jared Kushner or Donald Trump Jr. become Mueller’s next target, I can’t help wondering what Trump will perceive as his self-interest.

 

‘Trump betrays everyone’: The president has a long record as an unpredictable ally

President Trump prepared for the pivotal meeting with congressional leaders by huddling with his senior team — his chief of staff, his legislative director and the heads of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget — to game out various scenarios on how to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling and provide Hurricane Harvey relief.

But one option they never considered was the that one the president ultimately chose: cutting a deal with Democratic lawmakers, to the shock and ire of his own party.

.. The president was an unpredictable — and, some would say, untrustworthy — negotiating partner with not only congressional Republicans but also with his Cabinet members and top aides.

.. His dealings are frequently defined by freewheeling spontaneity, impulsive decisions and a desire to keep everyone guessing — especially those who assume they can control him.

.. He also repeatedly demonstrates that, while he demands absolute loyalty from others, he is ultimately loyal to no one but himself.

.. “It makes all of their normalizing and ‘Trumpsplaining’ look silly and hollow,”

..  “Trump betrays everyone:

  • wives,
  • business associates,
  • contractors,
  • bankers and now,
  • the leaders of the House and Senate in his own party.

They can’t explain this away as [a] 15-dimensional Trump chess game. It’s a dishonest person behaving according to his long-established pattern.”

.. he relished the opportunity for a bipartisan agreement and the praise he anticipated it would bring

.. On Thursday morning, he called Pelosi and Schumer to crow about coverage of the deal — “The press has been incredible,” he told Pelosi

.. The treasury secretary presented himself as a Wall Street insider, arguing that the stability of the markets required an 18-month extension.

At one point, Schumer intervened with a skeptical question: “So the markets dictate one month past the 2018 election?” he asked, rhetorically, according to someone with knowledge of his comment. “I doubt that.”

.. The Republican leaders and Mnuchin slowly began moderating their demands, moving from their initial pitch down to 12 months and then six months. At one point, when Mnuchin was in the middle of yet another explanation, the president cut him off, making it clear that he disagreed.

.. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) ..

.. “I support the president, I want him to be successful, I want our country to be successful,” Zeldin said in an interview afterward. “But I personally believe the president had more leverage than he may have realized. He had more Democratic votes than he realized, and could have and would have certainly gotten a better deal.”

.. Trump is a fickle ally and partner, liable to turn on them much in the same way he has turned on his business associates and foreign allies.

.. “Looking to the long term, trust and reliability have been essential ingredients in productive relationships between the president and Congress,” said Phil Schiliro, who served as director of legislative affairs under Obama. “Without them, trying to move a legislative agenda is like juggling on quicksand. It usually doesn’t end well.”