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Money, Money: Michael Cohen v. Brett Kavanaugh

Vivia Chen

August 1, 2018

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Maybe it's the voyeur in me, but I'm fascinated by the mysterious ways lawyers in Trump's orbit spend and lose money. For the life of me, I can't figure out what's going on with these two: 

He just can't get enough: Oh, I know you associate Michael Cohen with tidying up Donald Tump's sexual liaisons with adult actresses like Stormy Daniels or Playboy Playmates like Karen MacDougal. While his former boss might like indulging in pleasures of the flesh, Cohen seems to have a weakness for a different sort of porn: real estate.

Believe it or not, Cohen recently bought himself a a sexy apartment for $6.7 million apartment in Manhattan's trendy Tribeca, according to the Wall Street Journal.  (The closing took place in April but it only got out now.)

So how seductive is Cohen's new digs?

Well, let's get to the porny part! Located on the 19th floor with vistas of Manhattan, it measures nearly 2,700 square feet, and comes with four bedrooms and 4½ bathrooms. Now, for the sensory delights: The building includes a Turkish bath, a 75-foot lap pool and a private dining room. And did we mention that the concierge service books private aircrafts for tenants?

How does a guy like Cohen with all his mounting legal troubles (and bills) manage to pay for this little abode in the sky? It looks like he got a little help from friends—not his, but those of our dear leader. Cohen apparently got a $3.5 million short-term mortgage from the developers, who happen to be buddies of Trump, reports The Journal. 

Getting a $3.5 million loan is nice, but Cohen still had to cough up the difference, $3.2 million, which most of us don't have stashed away in our cookie jars. Plus, that loan is supposedly "short-term," which means Cohen better find another source of financing—fast.

But what bank will extend Cohen a line of credit? Besides his legal problems connected with Trump, Cohen has independent business troubles: According to Bloomberg, he had to put up his family’s Park Avenue apartment (in a Trump building, of course) as collateral for the millions he borrowed for his tanking taxi business.

And wasn't Cohen just in the middle of renovating his Park Avenue place—which is why he's been staying at the Regency Hotel, where the FBI raided his room? (Query: Who stays at a five-star hotel in New York during an apartment renovation?) 

For a guy who seems to be drowning in debt (he said his legal bills were "bankrupting" him), Cohen is still living large. So where is all this money popping out from? Must be a Russian connection somewhere.

Why is Kavanaugh so bad with money? While Cohen seems to be swimming in dough for unknown reasons, Trump's pick for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, is mysteriously bereft of funds. 

"Public disclosure forms for 2017 show that the federal judge would come to the nation's highest court with only two investments, including a bank account, together worth a maximum of $65,000, along with the balance on a loan of $15,000 or less," reports The New York Times

In the best scenario, Kavanaugh only has about $40,000 at his disposal. See how fast that money goes when you're paying private school tuition (his daughters go to a private Catholic school), credit cards and a mortgage. (Note to lenders of Michael Cohen's new pad: Kavanaugh could use some dough.)

Not to panic—totally—Kavanaugh does have some other assets: His retirement account balance is between $400,000 to $500,000, and his wife has a 401(k) retirement account of less than $15,000. Plus, he's owns a $1.2 million house in a nice suburb, though that comes with a mortgage of $865,000. 

Kavanaugh might have decent retirement funds and a roof over his head, but he is still likely the poorest of recent Supreme Court justices. "Justice Clarence Thomas has assets listed between $695,000 and $1.7 million, which is the least among the justices, not counting departing Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, but still at least 10 times that of Kavanaugh," reports New York Magazine.

So why is Kavanaugh so poor? The party line, according to Raj Shah, White House deputy press line, is this: "He’s dedicated his life to public service. Obviously, that comes with sacrifice."

I don't buy that public service stuff. Kavanaugh is a 53-year old man who's been gainfully employed his entire adult life (the salary for circuit judges is about $220,600). Besides, he's no Big Law virgin. He was a partner at Kirkland & Ellis from 1997-1998, then 1999-2000. Granted, those weren't long stints, but did he not save anything at that time?

I have a feeling he's lousy with money. Remember, the guy ran up a debt of $200,000 on his credit cards, largely for baseball tickets. I understand getting into debt because of a bad business venture or gambling habit or sex, but baseball tickets? Really? Why engage in risky behavior when there's no upside?

Anyway, I'm worried about Kavanugh for his own sake. He's got two daughters to put through private school and college (his wife works, but only makes $60,000 or so), plus that big mortgage to pay off. He'll get a raise as a Supreme Court associate justice to $255,300, but I'm afraid he won't handle it wisely.

Everyone, especially the women who've worked for him, says he's a swell guy who listens well. May I suggest that some of you strap him down and make him listen to a little financial advice?

vchen@alm.com

Twitter: @lawcareerist

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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