Michael Cohen Remembers the 'Eloquent and Beautiful Letter' Rosie O'Donnell Wrote Him in Prison

President Donald Trump's former personal attorney has a new book and a new podcast after his fall from grace

Rosie O'Donnell, Michael Cohen
From left: Rosie O'Donnell and Michael Cohen. Photo: Vera Anderson/WireImage; Yana Paskova/Getty

Michael Cohen says that by launching a new podcast, he’s “seeking penance” and “seeking justice all at the same time.”

Joining him Monday on the premiere episode of Mea Culpa was Rosie O’Donnell, there to help with what he says is his side of his entanglement with Donald Trump, his former boss turned enemy.

(Cohen has called Trump a “cult leader” and a “mob boss,” and the president has called Cohen a "fraudster" and a "RAT.")

Cohen and O'Donnell — another Trump target — recounted meeting via an “eloquent and beautiful” letter the actress and television host sent late last year while Cohen, Trump’s disgraced personal attorney, was serving a federal sentence for lying to Congress, tax evasion and other crimes.

While the first episode largely focused on Cohen, 54, as a reborn figure in the anti-Trump movement, he also discussed his time around the first family.

The podcast is recorded while Cohen serves the remainder of his sentence from his Manhattan apartment.

Rosie O'Donnell
Actress Rosie O'Donnell in August 2017. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty

Cohen on the Letter from Rosie

Cohen describes the odd circumstances that, he says, led him to redirect the course of his post-Trump life, including a “most beautiful six-page letter” written to him by O’Donnell.

“I’m not ashamed to admit that I sobbed when I read it and so did others that were reading it with me,” he said on his podcast. “Here was a woman who I had helped attack and vilify on behalf of Donald J. Trump. And she reached out to me full of kindness and empathy.”

O’Donnell, 58, and Trump have had a rivalry dating back to 2007, when O’Donnell mocked her celebrity counterpart during an episode of The View.

For years, Trump and O’Donnell traded public insults back and forth. Cohen said Monday he helped carry out Trump’s jabs at O’Donnell and that her “out of the blue” letter to him gave him the confidence to re-examine his life while behind bars and out of Trump's orbit.

“That letter was a turning point for me,” he said. “In Rosie, I saw a better way forward. A way to change and a way to grow as a human being.”

O'Donnell said she wanted to reach out to Cohen because she felt a personal connection to him throughout her feud with his boss.

She told Cohen that “ever since I saw you," she wanted to know more about him and how he became close with Trump.

"You sound like everybody I went to high school with," she said. "You look like all the people I grew up with on Long Island.”

“I kept thinking, who’s that guy with him?” she said.

On the night Trump was impeached in December, O'Donnell wrote to Cohen: "I thought, here he is impeached and here you are sitting in prison and how is this fair?” she said.

Cohen said the actress' letter had a great “effect" on him.

“It was really a kick to the gut," he said, "Where now I finally understood — even more so — just how much I had helped him to hurt people, yourself included going back to that massive first feud."

After corresponding, O'Donnell agreed to meet with Cohen at the Otisville prison in upstate New York, where he was being held until he was released under house arrest in May.

While there, it was reported that O'Donnell gave Cohen advice about writing his new book, Disloyal, about his time working for Trump.

Michael Cohen Prison, New York, United States - 21 May 2020
Michael Cohen arrives at his Manhattan apartment, in New York on May 21, 2020. John Minchillo/AP/Shutterstock

'Canary in the Coal Mine'

Cohen is clear about his intentions throughout Mea Culpa, apologizing at points for his role in helping elevate Trump, 74, during his more than a decade as the president's self-described “fixer.”

Cohen, embracing his role as Trump critic, said Monday he was using his newfound platform as a way to warn voters.

“You see, I am the canary in the coal mine for millions of Americans mesmerized by Trump,” he said in the episode’s introduction, likening what he called “Trump-ism” to a kind of disease and regrettable choice.

“This podcast will serve as my penance,” Cohen said. “A way to right some of the many wrongs I committed at his behest.”

Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr., Donald Trump, <a href="https://people.com/tag/melania-trump/" data-inlink="true">Melania Trump</a>, Eric Trump, and Lara Trump at Mar-A-Lago the day after Thanksgiving
Trump Family gathers on the day after Thanksgiving in 2019. Donald Trump Jr./Instagram

Cohen on Lying to the First Lady

Cohen has emphasized his access to the Trumps — and their secrets — while promoting his new tell-all and his podcast. He writes in Disloyal that Trump had told him and his son, Jake, that “you’re family.”

On Monday's premiere of Mea Culpa, Cohen detailed for O’Donnell how he lied to First Lady Melania Trump when the president's affair allegations would come up — most notably, when Cohen helped Trump pay off adult-film actress Stormy Daniels after she said the two had sex. (The president has denied the affairs.)

Cohen told O’Donnell: “Anytime that there were one of these allegations, what would he do? He would turn around and he would get me to recant their testimony, get it on paper, send it upstairs to Melania so that she could see from the woman that there was no affair that it was all a lie that somebody’s just trying to take advantage of poor Donald.”

“And what about Melania?” O’Donnell asked. “Do you think she believed any of your bull?”

Cohen said the first lady believed “zero” of it, “but she had enough class not to turn around and to throw it in my face.”

“Instead, every time she saw me, she was kind and she’s a good person,” Cohen said. “She’s caught herself in a situation that rest assured she’s not happy about.”

He then predicted that the first lady will be “gonzo” once Trump’s presidency is completed.

“I think she’s gonzo the day that she’s out,” Cohen said. “I think this is a financial relationship at this point.”

Donald Trump Hosts Nevada Caucus Night Watch Party In Las Vegas
Donald Trump Jr. looks on as his father, Donald Trump, gives a political speech in 2016. Ethan Miller/Getty

Donald Trump Jr.’s Relationship with His Dad

O’Donnell asked Cohen for some insight into Trump’s relationship with his children — specifically Donald Trump Jr., who helps run the family's Trump Organization and is one of the president's biggest boosters on the campaign trail.

It wasn't always so, Cohen insisted.

“Don Jr. used to always say, ‘I don’t want to be anything like my father. I don’t want to be anything like him,’ ” Cohen said Monday. “What he wanted is a father who would take his son to the park and throw around a baseball or a football. Instead, whatever times that Donald would spend with Jr., he would take him to construction sites to pick up nails that weren’t bent, he would have him go with him collecting rents from various different buildings.”

It was “always work-related,” Cohen says, calling it “a strange type of relationship.”

“It’s almost like not father and son, it’s more like a big brother type that doesn’t care about you,” Cohen said.

O’Donnell said she feels bad for the Trump kids — “I don’t know how you grow up in that family” — while Cohen, offering his own diagnosis of the family, says the president’s children have a “burning need” for their father’s “affection and attention” now “because they never got it as children.”

“Don, Ivanka, and Eric were always sort of competing with one another at work in order to have daddy time,” he said.

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