A business partner of Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen is reportedly cooperating with investigators who are looking into Russian involvement in the 2016 election.
Information that Russian native Evgeny Freidman provides could allegedly help Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller persuade the Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen, to “flip” on the president.
Freidman's relationship with Cohen stems from his role as the so-called “Taxi King” of New York City. The men ran a cab service together until the mid-2000s. Cohen's current holdings in taxi operations in New York City and Chicago reportedly are worth more than $10 million.
Freidman, who is also a lawyer, was disbarred in early May. Authorities, citing more than $5 million in unpaid taxes, accused him of criminal tax fraud and grand larceny. Freidman could receive a prison term of 25 years on each of the five counts. On Tuesday, he pled guilty to one of the charges: failing to pay a $50,000 tax bill.
Freidman also allegedly kept money he received through the Metropolitan Transportation Authority surcharge, rather than turn the funds over to the city for mass-transit system maintenance. “This indictment exposes a blatant scheme to shortchange the (MTA), the transportation infrastructure relied on by millions of New Yorkers,” said Nonie Manion, the acting commissioner of the state Department of Taxation and Finance, when Freidman was charged. At Tuesday's hearing, an Albany County judge suggested that he will place the defendant on probation for five years rather than sentence him to jail.
Regarding his connection to Cohen, Freidman told The New York Times in a text message: “Michael is dear, dear personal friend and a passive client. That’s it.” He added: “I am humbled and ashamed. (I am) taking responsibility for my actions. I had been an officer of the court in excess of 20 years and now I am a felon. I hate that I have been grouped in this runaway train that I am not a part of.”
Federal agents recently raided Cohen's home, apartment and office, seizing files and computer devices, as part of their investigation of the lawyer's business practices. Freidman may prove to be a key informant in the case, which has links to the president. Trump has admitted that Cohen gave former porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 during the 2016 campaign, in exchange for her signature on a nondisclosure agreement. The actress claims to have had an affair with Trump more than ten years ago. The feds who conducted the surprise search were looking for Cohen's documents about the hush money, as well as information concerning his real-estate and casino boat operations.
During the 2016 race, Cohen set up a shell corporation with a bank account that processed the payment to Daniels. AT&T, Novartis and other large companies contributed money to the account, which Cohen allegedly used to pay off multiple women who threatened to publicly reveal embarrassing information about the president. Cohen and Trump go way back. For ten years, the lawyer represented the real-estate mogul's businesses. He was the defense attorney in the Trump University fraud case, which ended when the plaintiffs received a multimillion-dollar settlement.
Cohen will soon agree to answer Mueller's questions about Trump, according to Michael Avenatti, Daniels' attorney. “Michael Cohen will be in a world of hurt in a very short period of time,” Avenatti predicted on MSNBC. “He will have very few options, and that’s why I’ve said repeatedly that ultimately he’s going to flip on the president of the United States.”
Trump and his legal team are worried that Cohen will agree to cooperate with the special counsel. Two unidentified sources told Politico that there had been considerable discussion in the White House about the damage the lawyer could cause to the president. Alan Dershowitz, a famous lawyer and Trump supporter, predicted that federal authorities would “threaten” Cohen with life in prison if he refuses to talk. “They’re going to … try to turn him into a canary that sings,” Dershowitz said. One of Politico's sources pointed out that “when anybody is faced with spending a long time in jail, they start to re-evaluate their priorities, and cooperation can’t be ruled out.”
Several news outlets have reported that Trump's inner circle considers the Cohen investigation a bigger threat than the Russian probe. Federal agents, in their search of the lawyer's homes and office, may have found evidence of crimes related to the Trump Organization and possibly the president's past connections to Russia. “Who knows what Cohen has in those files?” a White House source asked. Trump claims investigators have crossed the line by probing his personal affairs. “He's not happy about it,” a White House aide said.