Michael Cohen is a two-time New York Times best-selling author, first with his book Disloyal: A Memoir, and now with his latest book Revenge: How Donald Trump Weaponized the Department of Justice Against His Critics. Cohen is famous for being the former attorney and personal ‘fixer’ for Donald Trump (2006-2018) and has testified for congress as well as New York’s Attorney General’s office and confessed he was in “The Cult of Trump.” I wrote about him in my book, and he is a courageous whistle-blower who, like me, has devoted an enormous amount of time and effort to shedding light on the disgraced and twice impeached former president.
Cohen admits that Trump influenced him and was willing to do things for him that he knew were wrong. I was delighted to have the opportunity to talk to Michael Cohen on my Influence Continuum podcast to hear about his unique experience within the cult of Trump, which has come at a high cost to his personal and professional life.
Since his dramatic exit as Trump’s attorney and advisor, Cohen has faced up to the mistakes he made under Trump’s direction with sincerity and remorse. He is now working to become an agent of change, advocating for justice reform, exposing corruption, and educating people about what he calls “the cult of Trumpism.” He is the host of the top-rated news podcast Mea Culpa which I regularly listen to as he offers a former insider’s view, which is invaluable. Cohen also owns and operates the management consulting firm Crisis-X.
Undue Influence within The Cult of Trump
As one of Trump’s closest confidants for more than ten years, Cohen was one of Trump’s fiercest defenders. He offered him absolute loyalty and even said he would take a bullet for him. He explained that he had become “mesmerized” by his charismatic boss.
In my book, The Cult of Trump, I explain how Trump employs many of the same techniques as prominent cult leaders – lying, insulting opponents, sowing fear and confusion, demanding absolute loyalty, shunning and belittling critics and former supporters, distracting and presenting competing versions of reality to confuse and coerce his followers.
During his testimony before Congress, Cohen described how Trump never directly ordered him to lie but, like mob bosses, would make his wishes clear by speaking in “code” that those who worked with him understood. Trump would praise Cohen as a great lawyer one moment and then humiliate and criticize him the next. Alternating praise and criticism is a common technique in cults and other relationships involving mind control abuse.
How Mind Control Alters One’s Moral Compass
Cohen experienced Trump’s willingness to mislead, manipulate, and coerce first-hand. In his book, Disloyal: A Memoir, he also describes Trump as “a cheat, a mobster, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, and a con man.”
When Cohen spoke at the House Oversight and Reform Committee in 2019, he seemed bewildered and expressed disbelief at how he had been so mesmerized by Donald Trump that he was willing to lie for him and do things that he knew were absolutely wrong. He reminded me of myself after I left the Moonies cult and how I had to grapple with the reality of my involvement. It was difficult to accept that I had become a fascist who would have obeyed any order from Sun Myung Moon or my superiors, including breaking the law.
Government Corruption, Misinformation, and Threats
When Cohen left the cult of Trump–not through his own volition but through a form of ex-communication due to the legal proceedings – his real ordeal started. In our discussion, Cohen describes how:
- He wasn’t guilty of all nine counts against him but had to plead guilty
- Misinformation was fed to the media to discredit him in case he provided testimony and inside information about Trump
- He was put back in jail for failing to waive his First Amendment constitutional rights
- The Government failed to cooperate with his Freedom of Information requests
- His family was intimidated and threatened
- He developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Sadly, these are the type of situations that can occur when a leader, who believes themselves to be above the law, decides to go after their critics or former supporters. When the leader in question is a President of the United States who has psychological sway over his followers and other politicians, the checks and balances of a healthy democracy have clearly been eroded.
In his latest book, Revenge: How Donald Trump Weaponized the Department of Justice Against His Critics, Cohen discusses how the Department of Justice (DOJ), led by then AG Bill Barr, was weaponized to harass, threaten, and attempted to deprive him of his First Amendment right of Free Speech when he wanted to publish his first book. Cohen pled guilty to charges to protect his wife and survived 51 days in solitary confinement. For what? Lying about the number of times he spoke with Trump about the Hotel project in Russia. Disgusting, and Cohen is suing the government to do what he can to prevent the DOJ from ever being misused like this again.
I believe that we can counter the threats to our democracy by becoming well-informed citizens, making careful judgments about the information we are exposed to, speaking out about the need to protect our democratic institutions, and remaining committed to the public good. As Cohen said, we are responsible for ensuring that our children and grandchildren “live with the same rights and even more rights than what we grew up with.”
Michael Cohen’s Mea Culpa Episode. Special Report!! The Making of a MAGA Fanatic + A Conversation with Cult Expert Dr. Steven Hassan