Michael Cohen’s Daughter Reflects On His Time With the President, and Becoming Trumpworld “Collateral Damage”
Samantha Cohen never liked Donald Trump—especially after her dad paid the price for spending years by his side. Here, she talks Trump’s creepy sexual comments, Ivanka’s iciness, and her friendship with Tiffany: “I know there’s no way she believes that s--t.”
It was a hot, sticky summer, the way Michael Cohen tells it, not unlike the one the nation is currently pulling itself out of. It was 2012, another election year, and he had taken his family to Bedminster, New Jersey, for a day of playing tennis and hanging by the pool at the club owned by his then boss, Donald Trump. At the time the job perk seemed like a real chit. Cohen was years away from watching the favors he did on behalf of his boss blow up in his face. It was well before he paid a hush money settlement to Stormy Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 election, which ultimately landed him in prison and in front of congressional and criminal investigators. And it was ages before he published a tell-all about his time in Trumpworld, aptly called Disloyal, out this week.
That summer day felt like all the others before it, standing alongside Trump outside the pool area, discussing what Cohen writes was “some pressing business matter, like the size of the breasts of a woman sunbathing on a lounge chair.” Somehow Trump’s attention was diverted to another skirt walking off a tennis court. “Look at that piece of ass,” Cohen recalls Trump saying, as he whistled and pointed. “I would love some of that.” It so happened that Trump was referring to Cohen’s then 15-year-old daughter, Samantha.
Cohen informed Trump of his mistake. “That’s your daughter?” Trump responded. “When did she get so hot?” When Samantha reached her dad, Trump asked her for a kiss on the cheek, before inquiring, “When did you get such a beautiful figure?” and warning her that in a few years, he would be dating one of her friends.
It’s a detail that strikes for obvious reasons: Trump’s history of icky comments about his own daughter Ivanka; the dozens of allegations of sexual misconduct that have been made against him over the years (all of which he denies); the comments he made on the Access Hollywood tape about being able to “grab” women by their genitals because he was famous. At the time, Cohen writes, Samantha wanted him to quit working for Trump. Not because of his comment about her looks, but because of the way he had demeaned her father over the years, put him down, and prevented him from making strides in his career. “She was 15 years old and she saw Trump much more clearly than I could,” he writes. “Samantha said she was sick and tired of the way Trump demeaned and degraded me, as if he needed to keep me in my place.… This was part of his cult-leader persona—his slow, incremental, relentless way of saying nasty things to me about my abilities and intelligence, things that weren’t true, until some part of me started to believe them.”
Samantha, now 24 and a straight-talking, steely graduate of the University of Pennsylvania like Trump’s own daughters, told me that she believes her dad had a sort of Stockholm syndrome. In a wide-ranging interview earlier this week, she discussed why she thinks her father remained loyal; Ivanka’s iciness; her friendship with younger daughter Tiffany; what happened the day federal agents executed search warrants on her home; and what it’s like to be at the center of a political storm beyond her control. She is a member of the scandal-adjacent, an offstage character unwittingly marked by her association with the Trumps, trying to make sense of it all. It’s a growing club, as more and more people in Trump’s orbit meet their downfall. “Samantha can tell that story better than anyone else,” Michael Cohen told me this week. Our conversation has been condensed and edited.
Emily Jane Fox: The book contains a stunning story about Trump making a comment about how you looked when you were 15.
Samantha Cohen: There are so many creepy men, and it was hardly the first comment like that I’d heard. It was almost meaningless to me at the moment because I’d heard them before. If you can hit on a 15-year-old, I am pretty sure there is something wrong with you, and when you allow someone with that little integrity to be in the most powerful office, that sets the tone for the rest of the country’s culture.
Isn’t that also a power move over your dad?
Well, if you would have asked me, I would have given a different account of the interaction. My dad always tuned out everything negative Trump said about him, but what I remember was Trump saying, “Thank God she got those looks from her mother. She certainly didn’t get them from you.” That’s the part that stood out to me. I was not desensitized to someone putting down my dad and insulting him and degrading him. That was one of the reasons I hated Trump so much. It always felt like, God forbid my dad came close to not needing him. If my dad had any successes outside of the Trump Organization, Trump cut his bonus or cut his salary. He would find ways to undermine my dad in the office. Trump was holding him back. He had a twisted umbilical cord to Trump.
How old were you when he started working for Trump?
Eleven or 12. I was really young, and I knew we lived in a Trump building, and my grandparents lived in a Trump building, and The Apprentice was the biggest show at the time. I thought it was cool, probably. But Trump occupied 99.9% of my dad’s time, and he was blatantly mean to him. Before my dad started working with Trump, he drove me to school every single morning. He had a blue Bentley Arnage and would take me each morning, and then he’d always be home when I got home every single afternoon. He was always around. [Then] suddenly his entire life became about Trump. We’d be on vacation and he’d be down the beach trying to get cell signal. When my dad says the first call and last call of Trump’s day were to him, I can tell you without any question how accurate that is because I was there for all of it.
Why do you think he was enmeshed?
I really think he had Stockholm syndrome. That’s the only way I can put it. He saw how Trump treated his own children and how mean he was to them, and I think he thought that if he’s treating me like that, then I am part of the family. That was hard for me to understand at the time, but then I realized that he spent 10 hours a day with him, and he had this whole second life. He was correct when he says he was attracted to the power and the allure, but he also believed he loved Trump. When he loves someone he would do anything for them, and unfortunately he came to care about the wrong person.
What was your relationship like with the Trump family?
At the beginning my dad and Don Jr. were really close. At the very beginning we had a big family dinner in Palm Beach. My dad used to tell me how mean Trump was to Don Jr. and how badly he felt for him. Ivanka lived in our building. She would totally ignore me if she ever saw me. I always found it so strange because she loved my dad. She came over one night because he made his “famous” lasagna. Whenever we were alone, though, she’d look past me. One time she told on me after she saw me smoking cigarettes outside of our building. It was so lame. I had an interaction with her last year. It was a couple of months before my dad got sentenced. I was walking out of the building. I knew that she was in town because Secret Service was everywhere. I walked out of the building and she was standing waiting for her driver. She saw me and I thought she was going to ignore me, as she had the rest of my life. But she grabbed my arm and said, “We all feel so terribly about what’s happening to your dad. Our hearts are breaking for him. I’m so sorry that this happened to you guys,” in this high-pitched, sugary voice. I knew how fake it was. I have no idea why she said that to me because I know she doesn’t care, and it was too late to send a message to my dad. I don’t know if she was trying to make herself feel better, or if she did it for show because there were other people in the lobby. It just felt like someone threw a bucket of slime on me because it was so phony and gross. But no one actually gave a rat’s ass about my dad or my mom or my brother or me. We were all, as my dad likes to say, collateral damage.
Tiffany and I had a mutual friend, but she knew who my dad was because Trump never wanted to deal with her, [so] my dad was helpful to her. We got super close, and whenever she’d be in New York we’d go out together. When I was a junior in high school, I went to visit her at Penn and stayed with her, and when I got into Penn she was one of my closest friends. This isn’t anything she’s explicitly said to me, but it can’t be easy being made to feel your entire life like you’re unwanted. I won’t speak to her now, but if I could, I would say something. When I see her speaking at the RNC, I know there’s no way she believes that shit. She has friends who are gay. She’s an Ivy League–educated woman. There’s no way that she thinks that any of this is a good idea, and her dad treated her like shit her whole life.
Why do you think she’s doing it, then?
She never really got the perks of being a Trump kid before. But this is how and when she wants it? Being part of the most hated family in America?
You interned in the Trump White House, right?
Yes. I was a poli sci major at the time, and I thought that working as a White House intern would look good on my résumé. Melania really liked me, or Melania and my dad were exceptionally close. I got a job working in the East Wing. I was there for about a week and I truly thought I was going to go crazy. No one was doing anything. Zero work was done. I would sit at my computer screen just staring. Everyone looked like Kellyanne Conway. I wanted to quit and called my dad. He told me to give him one day to turn it around. He called Omarosa [Manigault Newman], who told him to get me over to her office and I could shadow her for the rest of my time there. So I did.
What has the blowback been like for you?
A lot of doors did close to me. There were employers at dream jobs who I’d been speaking with at the time who just ghosted me because of the association with my dad. At the time I was studying really hard for the LSAT. I was working with a counselor who told me that I wasn’t going to get in anywhere because of it. Socially, friends I’d had my entire life were nervous to have me in their house. I was in a relationship at the time, and the private equity firm where he was going to work did a background check and I came up as what they deemed a “reputational hazard,” and he dumped me.
My dad and I didn’t speak at the start of the campaign for two to three months. It was the comment about Mexicans that really threw me over the edge. Before this I didn’t think Trump was a flaming racist. But I realized that Trump will turn into anything if it meant getting elected. That scared me. There was no bottom to how low Trump would go. He’d just keep going lower and lower and lower to get further and further and further. I never thought he would win, but I thought it would change the shape of politics for a very long time. I kept saying to my dad, “This is going to be so bad, and you are insane for being part of this.”
Not only has it been a nightmare for the country, but it turned into a nightmare personally too. Can we talk about the day of the raid?
I woke up at my then boyfriend’s apartment. I shared a trainer with my mom at the time, and the trainer had texted me saying that she wasn’t sure what was going on, but that my mom had told her not to come and to tell me not to come home until she contacts you. Things had taken a weird turn already before this because of the Stormy Daniels stuff. I was freaked out and called everyone—my dad, my mom, my brother—and no one answered. We were living in a hotel at the time because the apartment had flooded, and when I got back the people who worked there were all looking at me weirdly. When I got up to our floor, there were 10 federal agents in the hallway. I couldn’t understand any of it. I told them that I lived there and asked where my parents were. So they let me in, and my parents were in their pajamas. They didn’t handcuff them, but they weren’t even in real clothes. I started freaking out, but my dad told me that I had to let them do whatever they wanted. I went downstairs to get coffee and food, and they were in my room. I was like, “What the hell? Why are you going through my things?” They were in my underwear drawer taking photos of everything, where I kept my secret stash of cigarettes. They went through every single item of my clothing taking photos. I could not believe that it came to that.
What is your personal takeaway from what has happened?
People are so quick to jump to conclusions and make assumptions. People are complex. People are flawed. People are different versions of themselves in different aspects of their lives. My dad was villainized over the last several years by the same people who are now praising him for standing up and telling the truth. I get that people are angry. I get that people hate Trump. But think about the effect that has on a person, on their family, on the people who love them. The level of hatred and vitriol thrown at us terrifies me. When I was walking my dad into court for his sentencing, I had just gotten hip surgery and was on crutches, and the internet went crazy calling me Tiny Tim. People tried to dig stuff up on me. Reporters were sniffing around.
You were the subject of attention because you had posted photos of parties when your dad was in the thick of things. The New York Post wrote about you going to a charity event right after he was sentenced.
I needed to do something that made me feel normal, more like myself. I had people who were in my social circle asking how I could go out and show my face. I had to continue having some semblance of normalcy because my entire life was upside down. For anyone who judges me for having maintained a social life or for posting on Instagram, what use is it to judge how anyone chooses to try and make it through a hard time? I just tried to go on feeling like myself.
Are you able to feel like yourself now?
I’ve changed a lot. I had major health trauma over the last two years that coincided with this. While I was having multiple surgeries for endometriosis, you couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing my dad’s face. I couldn’t open up Apple News without reading something about him. I lost utter faith in the justice system. I lost utter faith in the
I am still angry. But my dad is also my best friend and the best dad ever. Throughout my entire health situation, he was being hounded by all of his lawyers and calls from Congress and investigators, and he would sleep in the hospital with me. He took care of me as long as he was home. We’re abnormally close, so what happened to him really hurt me. As difficult as it was for me because I was so angry at him—for blowing up our lives, for taking away opportunities from me, for destroying my world as I was trying to find my footing—I also internalized a lot that was being thrown at him. It hurt me more than it hurt him at times. He has thick skin.