Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s sometimes-spokesman and special counsel Michael Cohen earned his “pit bull” moniker this week, when he attempted to intimidate a Daily Beast reporter—and claimed that marital rape was a perfectly legal act.
But those were hardly Cohen’s only revolting comments, or his only attempts at bullying. The Trump confidant also bragged to The Daily Beast about how he “destroy[ed]” the life of a young beauty queen—a woman Cohen called an “idiot.”
The ultra-aggressive tactics of Trump and his inner circle have raised questions about the GOP front-runner’s character and judgment. Fellow Republican candidate Rick Perry called on Trump to drop out of the race after he questioned the heroism of former prisoner of war Senator John McCain. The Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, called Cohen’s comments “despicable,” adding, “This is a new low. Rape is rape. Full stop. End of story.”
Team Trump’s attitude towards female opponents has, at times, been particularly hostile. Legal papers revealed by The New York Times this week showed that Trump called a female attorney—and new mother—“disgusting” after she took out her breast pump and said she needed to take a break from their deposition. On Wednesday, Trump doubled down on the remarks, calling the lawyer a “vicious, horrible person.”
Until Tuesday, when Donald Trump distanced himself from Cohen following his inaccurate remarks about spousal rape in The Daily Beast, the former Democrat had been one of his boss’s most vocal public supporters, appearing on cable news shows to act as a surrogate for Trump and defend the campaign against the real estate mogul’s more controversial claims including that Mexicans crossing the border are murderers and rapists and the insinuation that Senator John McCain’s five years in captivity during the Vietnam War made him less of a hero.
“He’s speaking for himself. He’s not speaking for me, obviously,” Trump said of Cohen on CNN.
A campaign manager offered further clarification: “Michael Cohen is a corporate employee and is not affiliated with the campaign in any way.”
Though threatening perceived enemies with lawsuits is a go-to response for Trump—the plutocrat is particularly rankled by claims he is less wealthy than he claims to be—the 2016 Republican front-runner often makes good. To prove his point during the call, Cohen invoked what he claimed were successful suits past like the recent $500 million suit against Spanish-language TV channel Univision after it decided not to air the Miss USA pageant following Trump’s incendiary remarks about Mexican immigrants. But it’s Trump’s win over a beauty pageant contestant that Cohen seems to relish most.
“Do you want to destroy your life? It’s going to be my privilege to serve it to you on a silver platter like I did that idiot from Pennsylvania in Miss USA, because I think you’re dumber than she is,” Cohen said. “Sheena Monnin, another one that wanted to defame Mr. Trump and ended up with a $5 million judgment. That’s going to be nothing compared to what I do to you.”
Sheena Monnin’s father, Philip Monnin, told The Daily Beast that Cohen treated her with “arrogance and bullying and threats and intimidation…delivered with basic impunity.” The 30-year-old former Miss Pennsylvania (Favorite song: “Memory” from the musical Cats; Hobbies: geology and studying rock formations) resigned her title in 2012 after failing to make the top 16 in the national pageant. She was subsequently hit with a $5 million defamation penalty in arbitration for questioning the integrity of the pageant’s results.
“It’s like it’s their right that they can do this and treat people this way,” Philip Monnin said.
Neither Cohen nor the Trump campaign responded to requests for comment for this article.
Philip Monnin said that his daughter reached a settlement with the Miss USA organization in 2014 and no longer speaks publicly about the lawsuit. (She may be barred from speaking by a gag order.)
“She’s fine. She’s moved on with her life. She’s not had to rescind what she said,” he added.
Court records show the judgment against Monnin was satisfied in August 2014.
What she said was this: While backstage at rehearsal for the Miss USA pageant, another contestant told her she had seen a list of the top five finalists. When those five names were indeed called, she said she knew the competition had been rigged from the start.
So Monnin resigned her title and took to Facebook, posting in part: “In good conscience I can no longer be affiliated in any way with an organization I consider to be fraudulent, lacking in morals, inconsistent, and in many ways trashy.”
In an email, Monnin cited the organization’s recent decision to allow transgender women to compete as a reason for her resignation.
Trump responded quickly, appearing on Good Morning America to announce his intent to sue the ex-beauty queen and lobbing an insult for good measure: “She lost and she’s angry about losing. And frankly, in my opinion, I saw her barely a second and she didn’t deserve to be in the top 15.”
Michael Cohen called into TMZ to give her a public ultimatum: Apologize and retract her claim that the pageant results were predetermined, or face a defamation lawsuit seeking “massive damages.”
He gave her 24 hours. When asked by host Harvey Levin about the size of the intended lawsuit (“How much money are you gonna get from somebody who works at the Sunglass Hut?”) Cohen said, “It’s not about the money. You understand that. You understand Mr. Trump.”
Because Monnin had signed a hefty contract with the Miss Universe Organization, the case was argued at arbitration. And because Monnin’s lawyer was particularly terrible, according to a malpractice suit filed by Monnin and supported by a federal judge who later called his representation “unconscionable,” no one was there to defend her against Trump’s main allegation: that her Facebook rants had caused the pageant to lose a $5 million sponsorship deal with BP and that young women who Googled Miss USA would see Miss Monnin’s claims and not enter the competition, thinking that they didn’t stand a chance.
In her request to have the $5 million award vacated, Monnin asked the court “Please do not enter a judgment that will financially devastate me for the rest of my life based on this record.” Monnin later filed a malpractice claim against her attorney; a settlement from it helped her negotiate an end to her legal ordeal with Trump for a reported $1 million.
As Monnin’s representative before she had legal counsel, her father spoke with Cohen twice over the phone in 2013. “During our conversation there were threats and innuendo about what he would do to ruin her financially. For the rest of her life, he said she wouldn’t be able to buy a car or have a credit card,” Philip Monnin said.
Cohen appealed to her father to have Sheena Monnin delete all references to Trump or the pageant from her Facebook. The arbitration judge had refused to compel Monnin to remove the posts as part of the judgment against her.
“They wanted to shut her down,” Philip Monnin said.
But even in the face of a $5 million judgment, Monnin would not relent.
“At first, he was not yelling,” Philip Monnin said. But when he later called Cohen to relay her message, he said Cohen “got very angry.”
“He threw a fit on the phone,” Philip Monnin said. “He basically said if I went along with my daughter I was an idiot. And said that she should apologize and if she didn’t want to, then ‘Game on,’ and he slammed the phone down. And that was the end of the conversation.”
“I’m sure if you check other people who have had to deal with him, you’d hear the same. Just bullying tactics and intimidation.”
Indeed, Cohen himself explained the meaning behind his nickname, Trump’s “pit bull,” in a 2011 interview with ABC News.
“It means that if somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit,” Cohen said. “If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished.”
That attitude was on display when Cohen spoke with The Daily Beast. “I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen told The Daily Beast reporter who reached out to the campaign for comment over ex-wife Ivana Trump’s 1993 deposed assertion that she had been “raped” by her then-husband, allegations she later softened in a statement in which she asked her comments not to be interpreted “in a literal or criminal sense.”
“So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?” Cohen said.
And that “grab you by the neck” ethos was also demonstrated when Cohen tangled with the Monnin family.
“It’s unsettling,” Philip Monnin said. “Because you’re up against someone with a lot of funds to carry out their threats. And most people don’t even have the funds to defend themselves against nonsense.”
Though Cohen boasted that his legal prowess had poisoned the future of Monnin—a model and entrepreneur with degrees in human service and psychology—a federal court attributed Trump’s win to her “poor choice of counsel” and noted neither “sympathy, or apparent inequity,” was enough to overturn the “devastating monetary award.”
“He gave Sheena some challenges, but he did not destroy her life,” Philip Monnin said. “He can brag that he did, but she’s not an idiot from Pennsylvania, she’s a very intelligent young lady. When you take a stand for things that are right, it costs you.”