One of the most confounding issues of the 2016 campaign was the question of what drove the evangelical community’s blind obeisance to the Trump campaign. Obviously, abortion and the Supreme Court were and always will be of primary importance to that group. But Trump was so patently unfit in every way for a supposedly Christian or evangelical voter and other candidates were far more qualified, it was surprising the loyalty he was given, especially by evangelical leaders who have enormous influence. But, for one important evangelical leader, that loyalty may have been obtained in a way that Trump was very familiar with, using his fixer, Michael Cohen.
Donald Trump is, was, and has always been a racketeer specializing in the crimes of extortion, bribery, money laundering, with some former US Attorneys now openly saying that his company resembles a criminal organization. Back in early 2016, Trump was feverishly trying to round up support from the conservative establishment, especially the evangelical base, as he tried to disavow the pro-choice rhetoric from earlier in his career. But, surprisingly, both Trump and Michael Cohen seemed totally assured that one of those evangelical leaders, Jerry Falwell, Jr., would be forthcoming with his endorsement. Josh Marshall at TPM has put together a story based on multiple reports of why that might be.
Back in 2012, Falwell and his wife were staying at the Fountainebleau Miami Beach when they remarkably struck up a “friendly relationship” with one of the 21 year-old pool boys there named Giancarlo Granda. Falwell was just 50 at the time. The relationship was so friendly that Falwell took Garda for a trip on his own private jet and set about “looking to purchase a business in order to provide a source of income to Giancarlo Granda.” The business he found was a youth hostel in South Beach which provided private lockers, bunk beds, and shared bathrooms for its clientele. Falwell himself bankrolled the down payment on the purchase of the $4.65 million property for the venture but was not a partner in it. Instead, that job fell to Falwell’s wife and son, with Granda as the manager and additional partner.
While all that is interesting enough as it is, what’s more remarkable is that Falwell also became acquainted with Michael Cohen in 2012, the exact same year that Falwell began his “friendly relationship” with Giancarlo Granda. In fact, Cohen may have actually met Granda when Falwell brought him up to Liberty University when Trump was giving a speech there in 2012. And, somehow, despite the fact that he had no business dealings with Trump or Cohen, the relationship between Falwell and Cohen became so strong over the intervening years that Cohen and Trump were confident that Falwell would endorse Trump, expressing that belief even before Trump began his run for the presidency.
Trump, Falwell, and Cohen met again at Liberty University in January 2016 and apparently it was there that Falwell agreed to endorse Trump. But apparently Falwell may have had reservations because Cohen had to remind Falwell of that promise later that month, prompting Falwell to finally follow through and become the first major evangelical leader to openly back Trump. While evangelicals would have backed the Republican nominee no matter who it was, it is hard to overestimate just how important Falwell’s endorsement was to establishing Trump’s “conservative” credentials and rallying the evangelical base to his side, a group that now provides the core of his support.
Michael Cohen wasn’t much of a lawyer but it seems that one service he excelled at, and was known for providing, was handling, shall we say, “relationship issues”. Steve Bannon reportedly said that Cohen “took care” of 100 women for Trump. He apparently provided a similar service for Elliot Broidy, although some theorize that may have been for Trump as well. As of now, there is no direct evidence that this is also the case for the Falwells, nor is there direct evidence that, if such a thing had happened, Trump would have used it as leverage to garner Falwell’s endorsement, although that would certainly be in character for the President.
To continue down this speculative road, it might be worth asking if other seemingly strange endorsements for Trump might have been similarly obtained. In particular, Lindsey Graham’s remarkable transformation to a full-throated Trump supporter after a round or two of golf with the President is particularly striking, Trump was certainly on very good terms with David Pecker who clearly had squashed many a story for multiple individuals, not only Trump. In addition, it is important to note that the Republicans were also hacked in 2016 and again in 2018, but none of that hacked information has been released to the public, as it was for the Democrats. If compromising materials gleaned from those hacks made its way to Trump, does anyone doubt that Trump, being a racketeer at heart, would not use it.
As noted earlier, there is currently no direct evidence to support the idea that Trump was essentially blackmailing individuals in return for support, but, at this point, would anyone really be surprised if that surfaced. However, that evidence may actually exist and, someday, we may actually hear it because, as we now know, Michael Cohen apparently taped almost everything.
Originally published at thesoundings.com on December 14, 2018.