The last few months have been difficult for Michael Cohen, President Trump’s long-time private attorney and so-called fixer.
News of his private business dealings, in which he sought to cash in on his ties to the most powerful man in the world with some of the country's biggest corporations, has cast him in an uncomfortable spotlight. At the same time, disclosure of his hush-money payment to an alleged Trump paramour and porn star who goes by the name of Stormy Daniels has drawn additional scrutiny from federal prosecutors – not to mention an FBI raid on his home and offices.
On top of all of this, FOX Business has learned that Cohen has for now lost out on a project he has been pursuing since last year: a potentially lucrative deal for a book on his long personal and business relationship with Trump.
People with direct knowledge of the matter said Cohen had an agreement in principle with an imprint of the Hachette Book Group for a tell-all about his Trump ties, with a proposed advance estimated at about half a million dollars and possibly much more in earnings depending on sales.
But the deal is off the table for the foreseeable future and possibly for good as controversy engulfs Cohen, these people add.
Details of Cohen’s book deal, including his agreement in principle with Hachette and the advance amount, have not been previously reported and add new insight into the tremendous financial toll recent events have taken on one of President Trump’s most loyal aides.
An attorney for Cohen didn’t return a telephone call and email for comment. A spokeswoman for Hachette would not deny the details of the book agreement sent to her by email. Cohen didn’t respond to a text message requesting comment.
Cohen, a former personal-injury attorney who spent years in the New York City taxi-medallion business, joined the Trump Organization in 2007 after purchasing apartments in Trump buildings and developing a close friendship with the man he called "Boss."
In addition to working on various business deals for Trump, Cohen also took on the role as Trump’s pit-bull personal attorney, who relished battling adversaries in the media and elsewhere. During the 2016 campaign, Cohen served as a reliable attack dog for the candidate on television and with reporters who were writing critical pieces on Trump.
Cohen’s proximity to Trump is what enticed a number of major publishing houses for a book deal and ultimately led to his agreement with Hachette, people with direct knowledge of the matter say. But it was the less-public side of Cohen’s role in Trump’s orbit that has led to his current business problems—that of a so-called Trump fixer who would quietly quash controversies in unusual ways.
One of those dealings has now landed Cohen in hot water: Just days before the 2016 election, he paid $130,000 in hush money to an adult film actress named Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels), who was threatening to go public with details of her alleged affair with Trump several years earlier. What made her accusations so serious was their timing just before Election Day, and when the alleged affair took place: Trump had just married his current wife, Melania, who was pregnant with their son Barron.
Trump went on to win the 2016 presidential election a few days later but not before Cohen crafted a deal with Daniels’ former attorney for $130,000 in exchange for a non-disclosure agreement requiring that the allegations (which Trump continues to deny) would never be revealed.
That, of course, didn’t happen. In January of this year, The Wall Street Journal detailed Cohen’s attempt to fix the Stormy Daniels matter for his Boss, who was now president of the United States. Daniels and her voluble attorney Michael Avenatti then embarked on a publicity tour that included strip-club acts and TV appearances. Daniels discussed her alleged affair with Trump in an interview on “60 Minutes.”
With that disclosure, Cohen’s life began to unravel. He found himself entangled in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals as well as other matters.
In April, the FBI raided Cohen’s home and office after Mueller referred information about him to federal prosecutors in New York. Cohen has maintained his innocence, but sources tell FOX Business he is under federal criminal investigation for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations given the timing of the Stormy Daniels payment just before Election Day.
Even if Cohen isn’t charged, such legal issues have cost him dearly. With Trump in the White House, he developed a lucrative consulting business, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past year from such clients as AT&T and Novartis, which were looking for insight into the president. But those deals have expired, with both companies calling their relationship with Cohen a mistake.
His book deal is off the table as well, FOX Business has learned. Cohen has told associates he was delaying the book indefinitely because of his heavy work schedule. It’s unclear whether the White House also warned Cohen against doing the book, though people with knowledge of the matter say administration officials weren't happy about the timing given the growing controversy surrounding Stormy Daniels and Cohen’s role in other consulting matters that have caught Mueller’s eye.
Meanwhile, as the specter of possible criminal indictment looms, Cohen is described by friends as vacillating between anger over negative media coverage and melancholy. He is increasingly worried about his future business opportunities and the toll the controversy has taken on his wife and children, friends of his tell FOX Business.
“Michael is worried this stuff can go on for years,” said one associate, “and that it’s going be hard for him to make a living because he is seen as such a liability.”
Writing a book proposal
Cohen began seriously considering a book deal on Trump in the early fall of last year, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. He spent about four months writing a proposal and by January 2018, several major publishing houses had expressed serious interest in a book about his role working for Trump.
The proposal was widely circulated among conservative imprints of major publishing houses, and Cohen hired a top agent, Mel Berger of the William Morris Endeavor agency. Berger, though his assistant, declined to comment but he didn't deny these details.
Cohen met face to face with various editors at these houses, and was looking for a $1 million advance, according to people with knowledge of his thinking. He was heartened by the strong reader reception to the positive book written by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and GOP operative David Bossie, these people say. (Berger represented them in their book titled “Let Trump Be Trump.”)
"I liked it," said one possible bidder who looked at Cohen’s proposal. "Michael can provide details of Trump as a businessman and a person as well as anyone."
Indeed, the book appeared to have broad retail appeal as an insider’s account from someone who both did business with Trump as a key member of his company as well as insights into what it was like to work as his personal lawyer and fixer and enforcer.
During his rounds, Cohen regaled publishers with stories about Trump, his wild temper and some of the tough, behind-the-scenes negotiating he did on Trump’s behalf.
Publishers liked the proposal but had some concerns. Because Cohen was also Trump’s lawyer, they wanted to know how many of the stories he was discussing he could actually write about. Cohen said many of the stories couldn’t be published because of the confidential nature of his dealings.
At least one publisher questioned Cohen on whether the White House would approve of his book, people familiar with the matter say. He was, after all, the president's personal lawyer and bound by confidentiality.
Cohen assured the publishers he could move forward with the premise of the proposal and would have enough inside detail for a compelling narrative, these people add.
It was around this time that his involvement with Stormy Daniels became front-page news for major publications such as the Journal and tabloid fodder. Cohen initially took the same position as Trump: There was no affair, and he paid the hush money out of his own pocket to protect the man he so admired from a false charge.
Cohen, according to publishers who met with him, at first seemed amused by the matter, explaining that it was just part of his job protecting Trump. He was asked during these meetings if he believed Trump had in fact had sex with Daniels, said one person with knowledge of the conversation.
“I can see maybe a model and actress or some woman on television news but not her,” Cohen is said to have replied, before making a gesture with his hands signaling that Trump, who is famous for being a germaphobe, wouldn’t have sex with a porn star.
He also said his role in the Stormy Daniels matter would be addressed, though it’s unclear how much detail he said he would provide, these people add.While Cohen had serious interest in his book from several publishers, at least one publisher put in a low-ball offer because the house was worried about the legal ramifications of the Stormy Daniels controversy, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Cohen ultimately reached an agreement in principle around mid-February with Hachette’s conservative imprint, Center Street, and its editor, Kate Hartson, who is said to have bid about half a million dollars, these people say. (Hartson declined to comment, but would not deny this account.)
But within weeks of the preliminary deal, Cohen was telling people the book was being postponed because of his heavy work schedule. That wasn’t all Cohen was facing. The Stormy Daniels story took on a more ominous tone: It was possible that the payment to Daniels could be construed as a campaign contribution given its timing, thus opening Cohen to possible charges of violating campaign laws since the money wasn’t disclosed.President Trump’s new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, then acknowledged that Trump repaid the money to Cohen, which the former New York mayor said removed the possibility of a campaign law violation. Still, Giuliani’s statement contradicted the president and Cohen’s earlier statements, giving the controversy legs.
Avenatti turned up the pressure on Cohen by releasing records and sending tweets suggesting that hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from companies like AT&T, Novartis and even a consulting firm tied to a Russian oligarch were funneled through Essential Consultants, the shell company Cohen used to make the payment to Stormy Daniels.
By this time, the FBI had raided Cohen’s home and office, putting him in serious legal jeopardy and delaying Cohen’s book project for the foreseeable future and possibly forever, publishing executives tell FOX Business.
Cohen, however, still hopes that when his current troubles pass, he can sell his story. He has recently told at least one person he might want to revisit a book project at some later date with a “fresh approach,” according to a person who has spoken with him.
“He says he may also want to do a movie when this is over,” this person added.