Former Trump 'Fixer' Michael Cohen Sets Up GoFundMe Page for Legal Costs - NBC Southern California
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Former Trump 'Fixer' Michael Cohen Sets Up GoFundMe Page for Legal Costs

By Friday afternoon, the GoFundMe page dubbed the "Michael Cohen Truth Fund" had raised more than $154,000

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    Michael Cohen Pleads Guilty

    Michael Cohen, a former personal attorney for President Donald Trump, plead guilty to tax fraud charges as well as campaign finance charges stemming from hush money related to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. (Published Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018)

    Michael Cohen is sticking his hand out and asking the public for help paying for his legal defense, and one anonymous donor already has ponied up $50,000.

    Through his lawyer, Donald Trump's former "fixer" says collecting contributions through a GoFundMe page set up after his guilty plea this week is the only way to ensure the truth comes out about the president.

    It's also the latest sign that Cohen is broke.

    Trump's former personal lawyer owes at least $1.4 million to the IRS after pleading guilty Tuesday to tax evasion, campaign finance violations and bank fraud, and has racked up millions of dollars in debt. Because of his plea, he is being forced to give up his New York City taxi medallions, which have shrunk in value as Uber and Lyft shake the industry.

    Former Allies Line Up Against Trump as Sessions Punches Back

    [NATL] Former Allies Line Up Against Trump; Sessions Punches Back on Justice Dept. Remarks

    National Enquirer Publisher David Pecker has been granted immunity by prosecutors in the Michael Cohen case. Pecker, the latest in a string of former Trump allies ready to testify against the president, is now free to tell what he knows about a hush money payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Meanwhile, Trump's own attorney general is punching back at Trump for remarks made during an interview.

    (Published Friday, Aug. 24, 2018)

    "He's without resources and owes a lot of money," Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, said in television interviews Wednesday.

    Cohen, who once said he would "take a bullet" for Trump, commented in court Tuesday that Trump had directed him to arrange payments of $130,000 to porn actress Stormy Daniels and $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to buy their silence about alleged affairs before the election.

    While Trump denies the affairs, his account of his knowledge of the payments has shifted. In April, Trump denied he knew anything about the Daniels payment. He told Fox News in an interview aired Thursday that he knew about payments "later on."

    By Friday afternoon, the GoFundMe page dubbed the "Michael Cohen Truth Fund" had raised more than $154,000 from about 2,885 donations. Most reaction on social media was incredulous and unsympathetic, but one $5 donor was encouraging, writing: "The USA would love you for your honesty."

    Confusion over the web address for the fundraising page, michaelcohentruthfund.com, led someone on Wednesday to anonymously register a shorter version, michaelcohentruth.com, that redirects to Trump's re-election campaign website.

    Cohen's crowdfunding campaign, which has a goal of raising $500,000, could be a way for Cohen to bolster his whistleblower status by appealing to Democrats and others who want to see Trump taken down.

    Trump: Cohen Lied About Hush Payment Involvement

    [NATL] Trump: Cohen Lied About Hush Payment Involvement

    President Donald Trump is accusing his former attorney of lying, saying Thursday on "Fox and Friends" he did not direct Michael Cohen to make hush money payments to women claiming to have had affairs with him. The president says Cohen lied to prosecutors to reduce his sentence on bank fraud and campaign finance violation charges.

    (Published Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018)

    It's not the first time someone who felt wronged by Trump has asked the public to pony up. Fired former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe raked in more than $500,000 in just five days of his legal defense campaign, and Daniels funded her lawsuit against the president with about $500,000 raised from nearly 17,000 donors.

    This month, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was removed from the special counsel's Russia investigation over anti-Trump text messages, raised about $460,000 in 11 days from more than 11,500 donors, just shy of his goal of $500,000.

    Cohen could ultimately need much more to wipe his books clean.

    Court papers filed in connection with his guilty plea detailed his precarious financial state, as well as his side gigs as a taxicab magnate, high-interest lender and broker of real estate and handbag deals.

    In one arrangement, according to the papers, Cohen used a line of credit he obtained at 5 percent interest to float a $6 million loan to a Chicago taxi operator at 12 percent interest.

    Later, when applying for the $500,000 home equity credit line used to finance the Daniels payment, the papers say, Cohen failed to disclose $14 million in medallion-related debt. Cohen and his wife claimed on the loan paperwork that they had a positive net worth of more than $40 million.

    White House Insists Trump ‘Did Nothing Wrong’

    [NATL] White House Insists Trump ‘Did Nothing Wrong’

    In response to multiple questions about former campaign adviser Paul Manafort’s conviction and former fixer Michael Cohen’s guilty plea, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated that the president “did nothing wrong.”

    (Published Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018)

    In April, transaction records show, Cohen put up his multimillion-dollar Trump Park Avenue home — valued at $9 million — as collateral on some of his taxi-related loans.

    The value of medallions, the physical plates affixed to cabs that owners are required to display, have dropped precipitously in recent years from highs of over $1 million apiece in New York just a few years ago to nearly a quarter of that amount today.

    Cohen has been involved in the New York City yellow cab industry since the 1990s. He has owned about 30 medallions with his wife and father-in-law, as well as a fleet of 22 cabs in Chicago, records show. Some of them are held through companies with names such as Love Bug Cab Corp. and Tailgater Cab Corp.

    In addition to his Trump and taxi work, the court papers say, Cohen made $100,000 in 2014 for brokering the sale of a piece of property in a Florida aviation community and $30,000 in 2015 for brokering the sale of a Birkin bag, a highly coveted French handbag.

    Davis, who is listed as the creator of Cohen's fundraising page, told The Associated Press last month that Cohen was footing the bill for his defense after pivoting from loyalty to Trump to looking out for himself, but was "thinking of trying to get some help."

    A description on the GoFundMe page describes it as a "transparent trust account, with all donations going to help Michael Cohen and his family" as he goes forward with telling the truth about Trump.

    FBI Fires Peter Strzok, Agent Behind Controversial Anti-Trump Texts

    [NATL] FBI Fires Peter Strzok, Agent Behind Controversial Anti-Trump Texts

    FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team after the discovery of anti-Trump text messages, was fired by the FBI last week, his lawyer said Monday.

    (Published Monday, Aug. 13, 2018)

    Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson said crowdfunding campaigns raise ethical concerns because they allow people to contribute to a political cause similarly to a campaign contribution, but without the same transparency and regulation.

    "Who does the lawyer and client feel grateful to?" said Levinson. "Right now, there is no clear way of finding out."

    GoFundMe no longer allows fundraisers to download a list of donor's information such as email addresses, citing new data protection regulations. Fundraisers can communicate with donors through the GoFundMe site. And although there is an option to make donations appear anonymously on the public-facing part of the website, it appears that the fundraiser can still view the name of these donors.

    GoFundMe did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

    The money also could add to Cohen's already sizeable tax bill.

    Robert Rizzi, a lawyer specializing in tax and government ethics, said the law is unclear whether Cohen would have to pay taxes on the fundraising proceeds. Taxes would apply if the money counts as income, but not if it's a gift — but gifts must be given "out of detached and disinterested generosity," Rizzi said.

    Judge Rules in Favor of CNN's Jim Acosta

    [NATL] Judge Rules in Favor of CNN's Jim Acosta

    A judge ruled Friday that the White House must immediately restore, on a temporary basis, CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press credentials.

    (Published Friday, Nov. 16, 2018)

    "There would be an irony in being taxed on money he raised to defend himself for tax evasion," Rizzi said.