WASHINGTON (AP) — He carried out the boss’ wishes. He understood “the code.” He was blindly loyal — but now he’s considered a rat.
Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen spoke at length Wednesday about his life in the president’s inner circle, but the most vivid descriptor came in just six words. Trump ran his operation “much like a mobster would do,” Cohen said.
In Cohen’s scathing testimony at a House committee hearing, he repeatedly described Trump, the onetime head of a family business, like a mob boss minus the body count: quick to bully and expecting others to do his dirty work. Cohen described himself as a consigliere, telling lawmakers he did Trump’s bidding for years, intimidating maybe 500 people and lying to scores, including the first lady. But Trump never directly told him to do it, he said.
“He doesn’t give you questions, he doesn’t give you orders,” Cohen said. “He speaks in a code, and I understand the code because I’ve been around him for a decade.”
Cohen is facing a three-year sentence for lying to Congress in 2017 and other charges. He came back to Capitol Hill this week, worrying for his family’s safety, but claiming he would no longer lie for his former boss and was ready to spill.
Trump has denied the allegations against him and called Cohen a liar. Even as he’s done so, he’s used mob speak.
“Remember, Michael Cohen only became a ‘Rat’ after the FBI did something which was absolutely unthinkable & unheard of until the Witch Hunt was illegally started,” Trump tweeted in December. “They BROKE INTO AN ATTORNEY’S OFFICE,” he wrote, referring to the raid on Cohen’s office that touched off the now-disbarred lawyer’s eventual guilty plea.
During the hearing, Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly even likened Cohen to Joe Valachi, an American gangster known as the “first rat” whose 1960s testimony before Congress lead to the eventual dismantling of organized crime.
“This Congress historically has relied on all kinds of shady figures who turned,” Connolly said.
It’s hardly the first time Trump’s orbit has drawn mob comparisons.
In his book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,” former FBI director James Comey said he got the sinking feeling that Trump’s operation functioned like the mob. Former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe spun a similar story, and a former agent and former federal prosecutor tweeted Wednesday that Trump’s tactics as detailed by Cohen sure felt a lot like the mafia.
There’s even a “Godfather: Part II” reference in the indictment by the special prosecutor investigating Trump’s possible ties to Russia. Trump confidant Roger Stone told an associate to pull a “Frank Pentangeli” before a House committee, the indictment says. In the film, Pentangeli, an associate of the Corleone crime family, lies to protect the family during congressional testimony.
Associated Press Writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.