The occasion for our talk was I Know This Much Is True, an HBO miniseries premiering May 10 which sees the A League of Their Own star flex her dramatic muscles like never before as Lisa Sheffer, a no-nonsense social worker at a mental health facility housing Thomas Birdsey (Mark Ruffalo).
Over the course of our chat—which will run Monday, May 11—we touched on not only the show (she is excellent) but Trump’s years-long vendetta against her, the Tara Reade allegations, and the untimely death of SMILF amid claims of misconduct against creator and star Frankie Shaw.
One of the more interesting revelations to emerge from our discussion concerned Michael Cohen, the ex-Trump lawyer and fixer who was sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty of tax evasion and campaign-finance violations, ultimately confessing that he facilitated a hush payment of $130,000 on behalf of Trump to alleged mistress Stormy Daniels in order to “influence” the 2016 election. Few people know Trump better than Cohen, who served as his right-hand man and attack dog from 2006 to 2018, unleashing his wrath on anyone who stood in Trump’s way, whether it be journalists, accusers, or even O’Donnell.
According to O’Donnell, it was she who reached out to Cohen to bury the hatchet. “I wrote him a letter the day that Trump got impeached. I found his inmate number online,” she tells me. “He always looked to me like someone from my neighborhood. He grew up on Long Island like I did, he’s a few years younger, and he reminds me of my brothers. I look at this guy and go, ‘How did he fall under the spell of that charlatan?’”
In the letter, O’Donnell says she expressed gratitude that Cohen finally stood up to his old boss. “When he’s being impeached and you’re sitting in jail for doing exactly what the boss told you to do, it’s mind-boggling to me,” she wrote. “I want you to know that I realize you were involved wholeheartedly in all the attacks on me since 2007, and I forgive you, and I want to thank you for finally telling the truth about him. No matter how long it took you, you’ll be known and respected for that as much as any horror you’ve committed through him.”
Cohen wrote her back and apologized for his actions, saying he was “so moved by the letter that he started crying,” and that it “had been bothering him all this time, because he couldn’t believe all the things he did to everyone—including me—at Trump’s direction was now being done to him,” O’Donnell recalls.
The unlikely pair exchanged more letters, and eventually, Cohen asked O’Donnell to come visit him in prison (this was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, of course).
“He’s in the midst of writing it, and is nearly done writing it, and hopes that it’ll be out before the election.”
“I went there and I sat for six hours and talked to him,” she remembers. “Michael and I talked a lot about how he got involved in Trump, how it’s a cult, and what role he played not only in Trump Inc. but also Trump’s own family, including how much he dealt with Barron and Melania. One thing he said to me that was shocking was that one of the nicest people he’s ever met in his life is Melania Trump. He said, ‘I swear to you. She’s a great mother, she’s a great woman, and she’s in a predicament with him and doing her best to get through it.’”
He also confided in O’Donnell that he was working on a tell-all book about his time under Trump (as first reported by The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Cartwright), and O’Donnell, who’s written a number of bestselling memoirs, counseled him on how to shape it.
“He told me what chapters he was doing in his book, and on my way home, I was writing about what had happened between us, and I gave him my breakdown of things that should be in chapters,” O’Donnell says. “I said, ‘You should tell this story as a chapter, you should tell this story as a chapter.’ He’s in the midst of writing it, and is nearly done writing it, and hopes that it’ll be out before the election.”
While O’Donnell isn’t sure it’ll still be released before the election, given how Cohen’s early release from prison on account of the novel coronavirus was mysteriously rescinded, she teases it’ll be worth the wait.
“It’s pretty spicy,” she says with a chuckle.
Read our full interview with Rosie O’Donnell on Monday, May 11 here at The Daily Beast.