President Donald Trump’s most influential supporters in the media—Fox News star Sean Hannity, his boss Roger Ailes, and National Enquirer executive David Pecker—were so desperate for Trump’s approval that they frequently humiliated themselves to win it, according to the just-released memoir by the president’s disgruntled former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen.
In Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump, Cohen—who was disbarred last year and is currently serving a three-year sentence under house arrest in Manhattan after pleading guilty to felony counts of tax evasion, lying to Congress (which he admitted having done in the service of “protecting” Trump), and violating campaign-finance laws—provides numerous examples of the former reality star’s ability to intimidate and manipulate his ostensibly powerful minions in the media.
During the early Republican primary race, Cohen writes, Hannity was distraught about being “put in the penalty box” by the Trump campaign and anxious to get back into the candidate’s good graces after then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told Trump that Hannity was a secret supporter of Trump’s strongest opponent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
“In the summer of 2015,” Cohen writes, “I knew that Hannity was doing what he could for the Trump campaign, but that he had to be careful. His viewership wasn’t monolithically for Trump, yet, and there were more than a dozen candidates, some commanding large segments of the Republican Party. Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and each of the other declared candidates had to be given time to make their case, meaning that Trump didn’t absolutely dominate Hannity’s highly rated show in the way that the Boss wanted—and that Lewandowski demanded.”
Cohen continues: “Hannity’s best efforts didn’t stop Lewandowski from attacking him; like every reporter covering Trump, he was submitted to a brutal and frequently idiotic set of rules and expectations that required strict conformity to the Boss’s campaign manager’s idea of what the press should cover. Corey’s way of punishing the allegedly wayward was to put them in the penalty box… Reporters didn’t take kindly to this treatment, of course, and neither did powerful opinion talk show hosts like Sean Hannity….
“‘Why am I in the penalty box?’ Hannity asked me one day. ‘We’ve got to stop this bullshit.’ I rolled my eyes at the idiocy of the situation. I quickly discovered that Lewandowski was telling Trump that Hannity was secretly a Cruz supporter and that he was insidiously undermining the Boss by pretending to be neutral but subliminally messaging his viewers to vote for the Texas senator. Trump was always prone to listen to the last person who spoke to him, frequently the advisor floating the worst and most destructive idea, and in those days, Lewandowski was often that person. Appealing to Trump’s paranoia and rage was a surefire way to get him to take rash action,” Cohen further recalls.
“I made my way to Trump’s office. ‘We’ve gotta end this bullshit with Hannity,’ I said to Trump. “Fuck him,” Trump said. ‘The guy’s a fucking traitor.’”
However, after Cohen assured Trump of Hannity’s undying loyalty, the candidate and the commentator got on the phone.
“‘I’m with the Boss,’ I said, my phone on speaker. “He’s listening to us now. Feel free to tell Mr. Trump what you told me.”
“Mr. Trump, Lewandowski’s a piece of shit and a liar,’ Hannity said, according to Cohen. “I can’t come out publicly to endorse you at this time. It would destroy my credibility as it relates to you. But I want you to know that I am today and have always been behind you.”
The Fox News star added, per Cohen, “I speak to Michael on a daily basis. Anything he has asked me to do that benefits you, I have done.”
After Cohen affirmed this to Trump, telling him, “That’s true, Boss,” the former fixer writes, the future president replied: “Okay, fine, let’s forget about it.”
“Hannity was keen to do more supplication, it seemed,” Cohen writes, adding that the Fox host concluded the conversation, “Thank you, sir. Thank you for believing in me, because I believe in you.”
Cohen claims in the book that he never served as Hannity’s attorney, contradicting news reports at the time, and that he simply gave the radio and television host free advice on financial and personal matters. In one episode, Cohen writes, Hannity confided that his marriage was on the rocks and divorce was probable.
“‘You don’t want to do that,’ I said. ‘What about your kids? You want to lose half your money?’ ‘You have a point there,’ Hannity said. ‘Is there another woman involved?’ I asked. ‘You been screwing around?’ Sean sighed,” Cohen recounts.
“There are so many women in the world,” Hannity sighed, per Cohen. “There are just so many women out there.” (In recent months, published reports said Hannity has been dating Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt.)
Elsewhere in the book, Cohen calls Lewandowski—a bitter rival for Trump’s approval—“an alcoholic piece of shit,” seconding Hannity’s description of the campaign manager as “a liar and a piece of shit.” Lewandowski didn’t reply to a detailed text message from The Daily Beast seeking comment.
Hannity, meanwhile, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Michael Cohen was never my attorney as I said at the time. Michael even called and apologized after his attorney falsely made the claim he was my attorney in a court of law. As for anything else Michael is suggesting in his book, such allegations are simply meaningless to me for obvious reasons. I wish him and his family the best.”
Reached by phone on Tuesday morning while he was “walking in the park with my son,” as he put it, Cohen texted The Daily Beast that the accounts in his book—which include many direct quotes from Trump, Ailes, Hannity and Pecker—are based on “memory and voice recordings.” The federal investigation into Cohen’s crimes, which included an FBI raid on his Rockefeller Center law office and his Park Avenue hotel room, revealed that he was in the habit of secretly recording his conversations with Trump and others.
In another episode, Cohen describes his dealings with Roger Ailes, whom he characterizes as eager to place Fox News at Trump’s disposal in order to get Trump to stop inciting his supporters to harm Megyn Kelly after the then-Fox News star grilled Trump about his misogyny during the August 2015 Republican debate hosted by the cable outlet.
Cohen quotes Ailes during a phone call: “Donald, we’ve got a problem. Megyn can’t come to the studio to do the show. She can’t go to her apartment. She’s got little kids. We can’t have this.”
Trump’s reply, per Cohen: “She came after me. If you come after me, I come after you ten times harder.”
Cohen further quotes Ailes as groveling: “We’ve got to figure out a way to work this out. We’ve got to have you come on Megyn’s show. We’ll make it go the way you want it to.”
Ailes was fired by Rupert Murdoch in July 2016 after Gretchen Carlson sued him for sexual harassment and discrimination—and died 10 months later after suffering a fall in his Palm Beach mansion.
The book also focuses at length on Trump’s relationship with the fact-challenged tabloid company American Media Inc. and its recently departed longtime chairman David Pecker.
Though Cohen laments many choices he made during his time working for Trump, the AMI ordeal seems to weigh most heavily on the former fixer. The symbiotic partnership between Trump and Pecker, an acolyte of the celebrity real-estate mogul, eventually landed Cohen in jail after Cohen, shortly before the Nov. 8, 2016 election, concealed illegal payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal in exchange for their silence about affairs with Trump.
Cohen writes about multiple now-infamous instances in which he teamed up with Pecker and his deputy, Australian citizen Dylan Howard, to “catch-and-kill” damaging stories about Trump as a favor and occasional business transaction. Cohen describes how Pecker would flatter Trump, inflating his ego by talking about the mogul’s large net worth and running fawning profiles about the reality star in the National Enquirer.
“It’s not about the truth,” Pecker allegedly told Cohen when the two attempted to bury one allegation of Trump sexually harassing a woman in Atlantic City. “I have been watching his back for years. When I spoke to Mr. Trump about this, he told me to call you—that you and I will work together and handle these problems together.”
Cohen describes Pecker as a “sycophant and supplicant and propagandist,” whose willingness to spread disinformation to help his preferred candidate was “insidious and dangerous.”
Though Pecker avoided any legal consequences himself by agreeing to cooperate with federal prosecutors to share knowledge about Cohen and Trump’s knowledge of the illegal campaign payments, the former Trump lawyer seems to take some solace in the fact that Trump also stiffed Pecker out of a promised $150,000 to reimburse AMI for its payment to silence McDougal.
The book also details AMI’s other attempts to tip the scales in favor of Trump by spreading unverifiable information on the president’s 2016 Republican presidential primary opponents.
Cohen recalls how Pecker called him gleefully during the primary about a questionable photo the National Enquirer planned on running, allegedly showing Sen. Ted Cruz’s father Rafael and JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald passing out leaflets on a New Orleans street corner.
According to the book, Pecker showed Cohen a mock-up of the publication’s spread on the photo before it was published. When Cohen asked about the photo’s veracity, Pecker did not seem concerned.
“Does it matter?” Pecker said, according to the book. “All we have to do is allege that it is.”