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Wall Street Journal / News - Politics

Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen Described as a ‘3 a.m. Break-the-Glass Call’

Donald Trump’s personal attorney finds himself on a big legal stage—with the headlights squarely on him.

Michael D. Cohen’s previous roles ranged from defending his boss on television to conveying hard-nosed legal threats. In private, Donald Trump has referred to Mr. Cohen as ‘my Michael,’ according to a person familiar with the matter.

Michael D. Cohen cut his teeth as a lawyer handling small-time car-accident cases inside a taxi garage in Queens, N.Y.

Now, as Donald Trump’s personal attorney, he finds himself on a much bigger legal stage—with the headlights squarely on him.

FBI agents on Monday raided Mr. Cohen’s office, home and Manhattan hotel room, seizing records related to a $130,000 payment Mr. Cohen made to a former adult-film actress.

Mr. Cohen’s own lawyer called the use of search warrants “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.” President Trump called the raids a “disgrace” and a “witch hunt.”

The Wall Street Journal in January reported that Mr. Cohen made the payment to Stephanie Clifford, the former porn actress known as Stormy Daniels, weeks before the 2016 presidential election in return for her silence about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump. Messrs. Trump and Cohen deny such an encounter.

What is clear is that Mr. Cohen has long been a troubleshooter for Mr. Trump. In a January 2017 interview with the Journal, Mr. Cohen said: “I am the fix-it guy,” adding: “Anything that he needs to be done, any issues that concern him, I handle.”

Mr. Cohen’s previous roles ranged from defending his boss on television to conveying hard-nosed legal threats. In private, Mr. Trump has referred to Mr. Cohen as “my Michael,” according to a person familiar with the matter.

Mr. Cohen, 51 years old, was in private practice before 2007, when he joined the Trump Organization as an executive vice president. He was described as one of Mr. Trump’s “primary troubleshooters” in a charity-board biography.

He said he entered Mr. Trump’s orbit after purchasing four units in a Trump building managed by Donald Trump Jr. , and helped with a dispute involving condominium-board members at a different building.

A former dabbler, he said, in amateur mixed martial arts with Ultimate Fighting Championship paraphernalia in his office, Mr. Cohen raised hackles during the campaign when he told the Daily Beast a man couldn’t rape his own wife. He was responding to an old allegation by Mr. Trump’s first wife, which Mr. Trump denied.

Mr. Cohen said he achieved his goal of diverting attention from Mr. Trump. “My sole mission is to protect him so I’m not concerned if the media comes after me,” he said in the January 2017 Journal interview.

Before his Trump days, Mr. Cohen, besides practicing law, had extensive investments in the taxi business. A longtime partner was Simon Garber, a Ukrainian-born taxi baron who Mr. Cohen said had been a legal client. The two men remained business partners until 2012, when a falling out resulted in litigation, court records show.

Mr. Cohen remains listed on New York City taxi and state corporation records as owning some taxi medallions through companies with colorful names such as Sir Michael Hacking Corp. and Mad Dog Cab Corp.

In the early 2000s, Mr. Cohen started a Florida gambling-cruise business with two New York-area immigrants, public records show. The business took customers outside U.S. waters to legally gamble. Mr. Cohen described himself as chief executive of MLA Cruises Inc. in a biography for an unsuccessful 2003 run for New York City Council. The venture later ended.

While working for Mr. Trump, Mr. Cohen has continued his personal investments, including the purchase with a partner of a Manhattan residential building for $58 million in 2015, records show.

Mr. Cohen credits himself as the originator of Mr. Trump’s run for president. He said he brought Mr. Trump a newspaper poll in 2011 showing sizable support. Mr. Cohen later set up a website asking “Should Trump run?” and traveled to Iowa that same year to help lay the groundwork for a campaign.

In the summer of 2015, Mr. Cohen took the lead when a media company approached Mr. Trump’s office to discuss old pictures it obtained of Mr. Trump moving with a pen in hand toward a woman’s bare breast, as if to autograph it.

Jeremy Frommer, the chief executive of  Jerrick Media Holdings ,  said in an interview that in their first phone conversation about the pictures, Mr. Cohen began “cursing like a maniac,” and threatened to sue the company and destroy it. “I never had had anybody in my life talk to me that way,” Mr. Frommer said.

Mr. Cohen calmed down, Mr. Frommer recalled, and they later discussed a project in which Jerrick would interview Mr. Trump, Mr. Frommer said. The interview never happened. Mr. Frommer published one picture online but he said the company hasn’t been sued. Mr. Cohen declined to comment on the matter.

Mr. Cohen also serves as a fixer for other well-connected friends.  Anthony Scaramucci —a founder of SkyBridge Capital and briefly President Trump’s communications chief—has called Mr. Cohen the “3 a.m. break-the-glass call” for about 150 people. Mr. Scaramucci said: “If I had a problem, someone broke into the house, or drunk driving, he would be there in a minute.”