It’s All So Confusing (The Michael Cohen File)

Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, left, chats with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, right, and Trump attorney Michael D. Cohen, center, in the lobby at Trump Tower, Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, in New Yor... Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, left, chats with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, right, and Trump attorney Michael D. Cohen, center, in the lobby at Trump Tower, Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) MORE LESS
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I noted yesterday that President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, appears to have a longer-standing relationship than he’d let on with that renegade member of the Ukrainian parliament, Andrii V. Artemenko. Artemenko is the guy who met with Cohen and erstwhile Trump business associate Felix Sater to discuss Artemenko’s “peace plan” to settle things between Ukraine and Russia. Cohen originally told The New York Times that he took a copy of the “peace plan” in a sealed envelope and passed it on to Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, days before Flynn resigned in disgrace.

A day later Cohen denied doing so.

Confused yet? Welcome to my life.

I’ve been trying to piece these details together. Yesterday I noted that that Cohen, Sater, Artemenko meeting apparently wasn’t the first, at least not according to Artemenko. Artemenko says that he’s known Cohen for a long time, since back when Cohen was setting up a family business in Ukraine years ago. He also says that he and Cohen began discussing his plan for Ukraine and Russia back during “the time of the primaries, when no one believed that Trump would even be nominated.”

This is all quite illuminating in the way of background. As I mentioned yesterday, one of the oddities of Cohen’s occasional appearances in the Trump/Russia story is that unlike Manafort or Flynn or Carter Page who have known contacts in the Former Soviet Union (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Cohen just seemed like Trump’s bully lawyer from New York. But it now seems like Cohen has fairly extensive ties to and knowledge about Ukraine – which is of course the cockpit of the current deep freeze in relations between Russia and the United States.

So what is Cohen’s connection to Ukraine? Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

Cohen’s wife was born in Ukraine. Cohen told former TPMer Hunter Walker that she hadn’t been in Ukraine since 1972. Cohen is 50. So presumably his wife is roughly the same age and emigrated to the United States as a small child. This would make her parents Ukrainian immigrants as well, assuming her parents raised her in the United States.

It’s the role of Cohen’s in-laws that first got my attention.

TPM Reader BR flagged my attention to this 2007 article in The New York Post. The piece itself is really just a puff piece about the amazing investment opportunities you can find purchasing apartments in Trump high-rises. Written shortly before Cohen joined the Trump Organization (or shortly after, depending on which source you read), the article is about savvy real estate investor Cohen who was buying up Trump apartment properties right and left because they were such hot investments. From the Post

Once some buyers go Trump, they never go back. Take Michael Cohen, 40, an attorney and partner at Phillips Nizer. He purchased his first Trump apartment at Trump World Tower at 845 United Nations Plaza in 2001. He was so impressed he convinced his parents, his in-laws and a business partner to buy there, too. Cohen’s in-laws went on purchase two more units there and one at Trump Grande in Sunny Isles, Fla.

Cohen then bought at Trump Palace at 200 E. 69th St., and Trump Park Avenue, where he currently resides. He’s currently in the process of purchasing a two-bedroom unit at Trump Place on Riverside Boulevard – so, naturally, Cohen’s next step is to purchase something at Trump Plaza Jersey City. He’s now in negotiations for a two-bedroom unit there.

“Trump properties are solid investments,” says Cohen, who’s also looking at the new Trump SoHo project.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump agrees.

“Michael Cohen has a great insight into the real-estate market,” Trump says. “He has invested in my buildings because he likes to make money – and he does.

“In short, he’s a very smart person,” he adds.

Let’s piece this together.

As I read this, Cohen, his parents, his in-laws and a business partner each purchased at least one apartment unit in Trump World Tower. His in-laws purchased an additional two units in Trump World Tower and another unit at Trump Grande in Florida. That’s a total of seven apartments in two Trump high rises, with four purchased by Cohen’s Ukrainian emigre in-laws.

Cohen then bought two more units, one at Trump Place and another at Trump Park Avenue and was at the time of the publication of the article purchasing two more units – one at Trump Place and another at Trump Plaza Jersey City.

This is a total of at least eleven apartment units in Trump buildings purchased by Cohen’s family (and business partner) between 2001 and 2007. In 2007, Cohen was 40 years old working at a small to medium sized city New York law firm. Before arriving at that firm he practiced personal injury law. One needn’t be a billionaire to afford that many Trump properties, of course. But eleven apartment units would have cost an extraordinary sum of money.

Since four were purchased by Cohen’s in-laws they must have had a lot of money or the ability to borrow a lot of money too. How wealthy are they? How wealthy was Cohen in his mid-late 30s? If I’m adding this up right he purchased a total of four luxury apartments in New York City and a fifth just outside the city. I’ve lived in New York City for a dozen years and I know a lot of lawyers here. They make a lot of money, particularly partners at prestigious firms. But I don’t know any at that age who owned five luxury apartments.

Maybe Cohen is just incredibly savvy and made a ton of money on those Trump properties. Because two years ago, in February 2015, New York real estate trade sheet The Real Deal reported that Cohen purchased a $58 million rental building on the Upper East Side. Sources who discussed the deal with The Real Deal told the paper that Cohen also owned buildings on the Lower East Side and in Kips Bay. That’s a lot of buildings. And apparently it was a real score securing the deal for the Upper East Side apartment building because there were a lot of foreign purchasers bidding on the property too. Robert Knakal, whose firm represented the seller told the paper: “While they were not successful here, there were many foreign bidders competing for this asset. Historically, foreign buyers have provided equity financing for local operators but rarely have purchased rent-regulated assets directly. This could be a new trend unfolding.”

Maybe Cohen first hit it rich with the ethanol business he set up with family in Ukraine and that’s what allowed him to start buying so much Manhattan real estate?

Presumably Cohen’s in-laws or their family back in Ukraine are the ‘family’ with whom he set up in the ethanol business – where and when Artemenko says they first met. But wait, Cohen told Hunter Walker that he’d only visited Ukraine “twice” in “either 2003 or 2004.” And that was because his “brother’s father-in-law lives in Kiev.”

Wait, is Cohen’s brother also married to someone from Ukraine? I guess it’s possible Cohen’s brother is married to an Australian woman and his wife’s father just happens to live in Kiev. But whatever the specifics Cohen sure seems to have a ties to Ukraine, doesn’t he? Was the family he set up the ethanol company with, his brother’s Ukrainian in-laws?

Needless to say, there’s nothing untoward about setting up a business in Ukraine. And there’s nothing untoward or uncommon about foreign buyers or emigres buying up New York City real estate. There’s virtually no political instability to worry about and the prices basically only go up. But Cohen’s ties to Ukraine seem extensive. He also appears to move quite a lot of money in his own right – not just in deals he’s managed for Trump. And if Artemenko is telling the truth (by no means a certainty), he started discussing plans with Artemenko for a ‘peace deal’ to bring peace to Ukraine and lift sanctions on Russia in the early stages of Trump’s campaign.

At this point, I confess to having many more questions than answers. But after learning more about Cohen, I was much less surprised that the FBI was looking into his activities over the last 2 years, as they reportedly also doing with Flynn, Manafort, Page and Stone.

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