HOUSTON (FOX26) - For Michael Cohen and Donald Trump, it's always been about money and loyalty.
Joining Greg Groogan in the discussion on "What's Your Point?" this week: Jessica Colon,- Republican strategist, Nyanza Moore- progressive commentator, Bob Price - Associate Editor Breitbart Texas, Tomaro Bell - super neighborhood leader, Bill King - columnist and former Kemah mayor, and Tony Diaz - educator and Chicano activist.
NEW YORK (AP) - For Michael Cohen and Donald Trump, it's always been about money and loyalty.
Those were guiding principles for Cohen when he served as more than just a lawyer for Trump during the developer's rise from celebrity to president-elect. Cohen brokered deals for the Trump Organization, profited handsomely from a side venture into New York City's real estate and taxi industries and worked to make unflattering stories about Trump disappear.
Money and loyalty also drove Cohen to make guilty pleas this past week in a spinoff from the swirling investigations battering the Trump White House.
Feeling abandoned by Trump and in dire financial straits, the man who once famously declared that he would "take a bullet" for Trump now is pledging loyalty to his own family and actively seeking to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
The unraveling of their relationship was laid bare Tuesday when Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges and said in federal court that he broke campaign finance laws as part of a cover-up operation that Trump had directed.
In the days after Cohen's guilty plea, two close associates - the magazine boss who helped him squash bad stories and the top financial man at the president's business - have been granted immunity for their cooperation. These moves could have a ripple effect on the legal fortunes of Cohen and, perhaps, Trump.
For years, Cohen was a fixture in Trump's orbit.
Working alongside Trump and Trump's three adult children - Don Jr., Ivanka, Eric - in Trump Tower, Cohen took on a number of roles for the developer, including emissary for projects in foreign capitals and enforcer of Trump's will. At times a bully for a family-run business, Cohen was known for his hot temper as he strong-armed city workers, reluctant business partners and reporters.
He was there in the lobby of Trump Tower in June 2015 when his boss descended an escalator and changed history by declaring his candidacy for president. But Cohen's place in Trump's political life ended up being peripheral.
Cohen did become a reliable surrogate on cable TV - he created a viral moment by repeating "Says who?" when told Trump was down in the polls - and founded the candidate's faith-based organization. But Cohen was never given a prominent spot in the campaign.
And despite telling confidants that he thought he had a shot at White House chief of staff after the election, Cohen was never given a West Wing job. He remained in New York when Trump moved to Washington.
Cohen found ways to profit from the arrangement, making millions from corporations by selling access to Trump, but felt adrift and isolated from Trump, according to two people familiar with his thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private conversations.
But early one April morning, more than three dozen federal agents raided Cohen's home, office and hotel room.
A chief focus for investigators was Cohen's role in making payments during Trump's campaign to women who claimed they had sex with Trump, and whether campaign finance laws were violated. In the fall of 2016, weeks before the election, Cohen had set up a limited liability company in Delaware to hide the deal he made to silence the pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels about an affair she said she had with Trump.
Worry grew within the White House about what had been seized. That April day, Trump berated the raid as "an attack on all we stand for." But then, in a "Fox & Friends" interview, Trump began to dramatically play down his relationship with Cohen.
"I have nothing to do with his business," Trump said, asserting that Cohen was just one of many lawyers and was responsible for "a tiny, tiny fraction" of Trump's legal work.
A dispute soon broke out between Cohen and Trump over who would pay the former fixer's mounting legal bills. Holed up in a Park Avenue hotel after his apartment flooded, Cohen began to worry about his financial future, according to the two people.
By all appearances, Cohen's lifestyle was lavish.
He bought a $6.7 million Manhattan apartment last fall, though the sale didn't close until April and no one could move in until the summer. With bills piling up for his team of expensive lawyers, the suddenly unemployed Cohen began to tell confidants that he was worried about his job prospects and ability to support his family.
Meanwhile, the broadsides from the White House kept coming.
Trump and Cohen had long stopped speaking, but word would get back to the lawyer that the president was belittling him. The president's attorney and frequent attack dog Rudy Giuliani went from calling Cohen "an honest, honorable lawyer" in May to deriding him as a "pathological liar" in July.
Cohen began wondering to friends whether loyalty with Trump had become a one-way street, the people said.
Eager to hit back and attempt to regain some hold on the story, Cohen hired Lanny Davis, a former Bill Clinton attorney, to be his public relations lawyer. Davis began striking back at the White House and lobbed a clear warning shot at the president when he released a secret recording of a conversation in which Trump appears to have knowledge about hush-money payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also alleged an affair with the developer.
Cohen was embraced by the cable news networks as an irresistible foil to Trump. Some on the left styled him as a star of the resistance. Cohen's camp made some effort to play into the role, reaching out to Watergate whistleblower John Dean and, after Cohen's plea, establishing an online fundraising tool that seemed to predominantly receive backing from liberals.
Cohen, who could get about four years to five years in prison, is due to be sentenced Dec. 12.
Davis has strongly telegraphed that Cohen is willing to cooperate with Mueller's investigation. But a deal has yet to be struck and there are doubts about what Cohen can prove or whether the special counsel would want to rely on an untrustworthy witness.
Cohen has stayed out of sight and has remained emotional since his plea, according to the people close to him.
The attacks from Trump have continued.
"If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don't retain the services of Michael Cohen!" Trump tweeted Wednesday.
NEW YORK (AP) -- He's one of the longest-serving employees in Donald Trump's family real estate business. Through triumphs, scandals and bankruptcies, he was there.
Allen Weisselberg was handling the books when Fred Trump ran the company in the early 1970s. He was handling them when his son Donald made his mark with Trump Tower in the early `80s, then teetered on personal bankruptcy in the `90s. And he was there when Trump transformed the business around his TV celebrity in the new millennium and went on a global licensing spree.
Now the private and loyal Weisselberg is in the spotlight as the latest Trump confidant, and perhaps the most significant, to strike a deal with federal investigators for protection and to tell what he knows. Federal prosecutors have granted the Trump Organization's chief financial officer immunity in the federal probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen as the president lashes out at people "flipping" to the feds.
"Weisselberg knows everything about Trump entities that have taken in money and spent it," said Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio, who writes frequently about the president's businesses. "All of this would come into play if Trump was being audited or investigated for financial crimes."
Two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press about the deal Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. One of them said the immunity agreement was restricted to Weisselberg's grand jury testimony last month in the Cohen case, specifically the allegations that Cohen paid hush money to two women who claimed affairs with Trump.
Whether the 71-year-old is continuing to help prosecutors was unclear. Asked if Weisselberg was cooperating further, one of the sources declined to comment.
Cohen pleaded guilty to tax and campaign finance violations Tuesday. And while not named in the Cohen case, Weisselberg is believed to be one of two Trump executives mentioned in court documents who reimbursed Cohen and falsely recorded the payments as legal expenses.
Weisselberg's deal comes on the heels of several media reports Thursday that Trump's longtime friend David Pecker, the CEO of National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc., has also been granted immunity in the Cohen probe, as well as the company's chief content officer, Dylan Howard.
The AP reported Thursday that the tabloid kept a safe containing documents about hush-money payments and damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
Calls and emails to the Trump Organization to reach Weisselberg and general counsel Alan Garten were not immediately answered. An assistant said both were out of the office Friday.
Weisselberg, an intensely private, loyal numbers-man for Trump, was mentioned on an audiotape that Cohen's lawyer released in July of Cohen talking with Trump about paying for Playboy model Karen McDougal's silence in the months leading up to the election. Cohen says on the tape that he'd already spoken about the payment with Weisselberg on "how to set the whole thing up."
In Cohen's court appearance in Manhattan to enter his guilty plea Tuesday, Cohen admitted to making payments of $150,000 to McDougal and $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels "at the direction" of Trump for the "principal purpose of influencing the election."
The Trump Organization eventually reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 payment to Daniels, accepting sham invoices and recording the money it sent to Cohen as legal expenses. In court filings, prosecutors say two unnamed Trump Organization employees -- "executive 1" and "executive 2" -- helped set up the reimbursement.
"Please pay from the Trust," executive 1 is quoted directing to another unnamed employee. "Post to legal expenses."
The "Trust" refers to the entity that Trump set up after the election to hold his assets. He put the trust in the hands of his adult two sons and Weisselberg.
The identities of executive 1 and 2 are still unknown. Just because the Weisselberg and the sons were given control, that does not preclude others from handling the business.
Weisselberg is an unlikely player in the unfolding presidential drama, a low-profile employee who appeared in "The Apprentice" as a judge once but otherwise rarely drew the spotlight. He isn't even mentioned in many of the biographies of his boss.
But as a long-serving employee in the Trump family business, he is rich repository of knowledge, and the idea of him answering questions to investigators under oath poses a new danger for the president as federal prosecutors in Washington and Manhattan dig deeper into the president's business affairs.
From his first job helping with the books for Trump's father, Fred, in 1973, the Pace University graduate has gotten his fingers into nearly every aspect of the family business -- vetting deals, arranging financing, auditing, managing cash -- eventually rising to oversee all finances of its far-flung operations.
And aside from Trump, he is perhaps best qualified to answer two of the big questions about the businessman-turned-president over the years: Is he really worth $10 billion, as he claims, and what's in his tax returns? Trump testified in a case years ago that Weisselberg was the one who values his properties and other assets, and he has reportedly helped with Trump's taxes.
In addition to his title as chief financial officer, Weisselberg holds executive positions at many Trump entities, including director of the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which is being sued by the New York state attorney general for allegedly tapping donations to settle legal disputes among other illegal uses. The White House has dismissed the suit as politically motivated.
Weisselberg comes off in depositions in that case and others over the years as unobtrusive, loyal and undemanding.
Asked about what he thought of a last-minute order by Trump to catch a flight to Iowa to tend to some business during the campaign, Weisselberg said in one deposition that "it doesn't matter what I thought. He's my boss. I went."
He added that it was a rare trip for him. "I have never gone anywhere with Donald."
WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions punched back hard at President Donald Trump's latest sneering criticism Thursday as their long-running rift exploded into a public smackdown. Trump, concerned by the legal downfall of two former advisers, accused Sessions of failing to take control of the Justice Department, leading Sessions to declare that he and his department "will not be improperly influenced by political considerations."
Trump's anger with Sessions boiled over in an interview with Fox News in which the president also expressed frustration with the plea agreement his onetime legal "fixer" Michael Cohen cut with prosecutors, including implicating Trump in a crime that Cohen admitted. Trump said it might be better if "flipping" — cooperating with prosecutors in exchange for more favorable treatment— were illegal because people cooperating with the government "just make up lies" to get favorable treatment.
In the wide-ranging interview, Trump also defended himself against talk of impeachment — "the market would crash ... everybody would be very poor" — tried to distance himself from Cohen — "I would see him sometimes" — and said anew that he hadn't known in advance about Cohen's hush money payments to silence women alleging sexual relationships with the celebrity businessman.
Trump's latest shots against law enforcement came as he appeared increasingly vulnerable to long-running investigations after this week's one-two punch of Cohen's plea deal and the conviction of Trump's former campaign chair Paul Manafort.
Trump has spent more than a year publicly and privately venting over Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the federal Russia-collusion investigation because he'd worked on Trump's campaign. Trump, who blames that decision for the eventual appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, told "Fox and Friends" host Ainsley Earhardt that Sessions "never took control of the Justice Department and it's a sort of an incredible thing."
"What kind of man is this?" Trump said.
"You know the only reason I gave him the job? Because I felt loyalty, he was an original supporter," Trump said of Sessions, an Alabama Republican who was the first senator to endorse Trump's bid.
Sessions has made clear to associates that he has no intention of leaving his job voluntarily despite Trump's constant criticism. But his tone in his statement on Thursday made clear he is tired of the president's attacks.
"I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President's agenda." Then he declared, that while he's attorney general the actions of the department "will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action."
In New York, meanwhile, it was reported that federal prosecutors have granted immunity to David Pecker, the publisher of National Enquirer, which bought and killed the stories of two women. And people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that the publication kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Trump leading up to 2016 election.
In awkward schedule timing, Sessions met later Thursday with the president on prison and sentencing reform at the White House. But two people familiar with their meeting said the dispute was not discussed. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private conversation.
Sessions has generally absorbed the Trump's blows without responding, though he has occasionally pushed back.
In February, after Trump complained that Sessions' response to Republican complaints about the FBI was "disgraceful," the attorney general said in statement he would "continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor" and the department would "continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner."
Allies, including Republican members of Congress have long advised Trump that firing Sessions — especially before the upcoming midterm elections — would be deeply damaging to the party.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who in March said firing Sessions would "blow up" the Judiciary Committee, has been shifting his tone.
"I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice," he told reporters on Thursday. "Clearly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions doesn't have the confidence of the president."
But others stood by Sessions.
Republican Ben Sasse of Nebraska told Senate colleagues, "Everybody in this body knows that Jeff Sessions is doing his job honorably, and the attorney general of the United States should not be fired for acting honorably and for being faithful to the rule of law." He said it would be really difficult to confirm a successor "if he is fired because he is executing his job rather that choosing to act as a partisan hack."
People close to the president said they were not aware of any immediate plans to dismiss Sessions, at least before the November congressional elections.
Cohen's claims that Trump orchestrated a campaign cover-up to buy the silence of two women who claimed he had affairs with them has shaken the White House and the president, who has expressed worry and frustration behind closed doors that a man intimately familiar with his political, personal and business dealings for more than a decade had turned on him.
His anger was palpable overnight as he bellowed to the world in an all-caps tweet at 1:10 a.m.: "NO COLLUSION - RIGGED WITCH HUNT!"
In his interview with "Fox & Friends," which was taped at the White House on Wednesday and aired Thursday, Trump railed against Cohen for "flipping."
"I know all about flipping," Trump said. "For 30, 40 years I've been watching flippers. Everything's wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they — they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go."
That arrangement "almost ought to be outlawed. It's not fair," Trump said, adding that it creates an incentive to "say bad things about somebody ... just make up lies."
That drew immediate rebukes from the legal community.
Neal Katyal, Supreme Court lawyer and former acting solicitor general, compared Trump's comments in a tweet to "what one expects from a mobster, not the President of the United States." He later said it was outrageous that Trump had "decided to condemn the entire practice of flipping nationwide, which is essential to law enforcement operations."
"If President Trump's views were the law, literally thousands of criminals would be on the street today," he said.
The president's comment and others in recent days have fed criticism that Trump, a "law and order" candidate, is now living in an upside-down world in which campaign finance violations are "not a crime," former White House Counsel John Dean, who helped expose the Watergate scandal, is a "RAT," and Manafort, a man found guilty of defrauding the government, should be applauded.
Trump has said repeatedly that he feels bad for Manafort, and has praised him for refusing to cooperate with the DOJ.
"(U)nlike Michael Cohen, he refused to 'break' - make up stories in order to get a 'deal.' Such respect for a brave man!" he tweeted.
Dean, counsel under President Richard Nixon, went to jail for his role in the Watergate scandal, but also cooperated with the government. He tweeted Thursday that Trump "thinks, acts and sounds like a mob boss."
Some Democrats, meanwhile, are discussing the possibility of impeaching Trump — should they retake control of the House in November's elections.
Trump argued such a move could have dire economic consequences, but added: "I don't know how you can impeach somebody who's done a great job."