National News

Accusers’ Lawyer Asked Trump’s Fixer for Help

Posted May 11, 2018 6:37 p.m. EDT
Updated May 11, 2018 6:38 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — A lawyer who says he once represented two women who claimed that former New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman had “sexually victimized” them several years ago asserted Friday that he discussed their claims in 2013 with an unlikely person: Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer.

The lawyer for the women, Peter J. Gleason, offered his surprising account in a letter submitted to Kimba M. Wood, the Manhattan federal judge who is overseeing an ongoing investigation into Cohen. In the letter, Gleason asked Wood for an order to protect any records Cohen might have concerning their discussion of the women — a step he felt was needed after federal agents seized boxes of documents in a series of raids on Cohen’s office, apartment and hotel room last month.

“The extent of Mr. Cohen’s memorializing any of our communications is unknown,” Gleason wrote. “However, these two women’s confidentiality, as victims of a sexual assault, should be superior to that of any unrelated subpoena.”

In an interview shortly after his letter was filed, Gleason — without offering details or corroborating evidence of his account — said that during their conversation five years ago, Cohen told him that if Trump, who was thinking of running for New York governor at the time, were to be elected, he would help bring to light the women’s accusations against Schneiderman.

A deep animus had existed between the two men, prompted by a $40 million civil fraud lawsuit Schneiderman filed against Trump’s for-profit educational venture, Trump University, in August 2013.

The filing of Gleason’s letter marked an extraordinary convergence of two of the moment’s most explosive news stories: the abrupt demise of Schneiderman, who quit his job Monday amid allegations that he had physically assaulted four former girlfriends, and the case of Cohen, who is under investigation for potentially having broken the law by trying to suppress negative coverage of Trump in the run-up to the 2016 election.

The letter also shed new light on the simmering feud between Trump and Schneiderman, one that was inflamed anew this week as several of Trump’s supporters took to social media to revel in Schneiderman’s downfall. As for Gleason, he is a well-known figure in New York’s legal and political circles. A former firefighter, he mounted a failed campaign for City Council in 2003 and last year briefly sought to challenge the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., as a write-in candidate. In his legal practice, he has shown a penchant for involving himself in salacious, tabloid-ready cases. In 2012, for instance, he represented Anna Gristina, the Soccer Mom Madam, who was accused of running a brothel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. (At a hearing in the case, Gleason offered to put up his own Tribeca loft to help pay Gristina’s bond and told the judge that she and her family could move in with him while she awaited trial.)

In his interview Friday, Gleason also said he had told several elected officials of his concerns about Schneiderman’s abusive behavior nearly five years ago, but was rebuffed.

“The highest levels of our state and city government were well aware of Eric Schneiderman,” he said.

Gleason refused to identify the officials, and noted that the women he represented were not among the four who came forward this week in an article in The New Yorker that prompted Schneiderman’s resignation.

A spokesman for the law firm of Clayman & Rosenberg, which is representing Schneiderman, declined to comment. Lawyers for Cohen did not return a call seeking comment.

In his letter, Gleason said that after his attempts to assist the women fell on deaf ears, he decided to take their accusations against Schneiderman to Steve Dunleavy, a former columnist for The New York Post. According to the letter, Dunleavy “offered to discuss the matter with Donald Trump.”

Within a day of speaking with Dunleavy, Gleason said, he received a phone call from Cohen.

“In the conversation,” Gleason recalled, “I said, ‘Listen, I’m looking for somebody to help.’ At the time, Trump was considering running for governor. And Cohen said, ‘If Trump runs and wins, you’ll have an ally for bringing these women forward.'”

Gleason added, “I’m no fan of Michael Cohen, but he was sympathetic.”

At that point, Trump and Schneiderman were warring over Trump University in a legal battle bitter enough that Trump eventually filed a complaint against Schneiderman with New York state’s ethics watchdog agency. In the wake of the lawsuit, Trump also posted a cryptic attack on Schneiderman on Twitter, comparing him unfavorably with two other Democratic politicians felled by scandal: former Rep. Anthony D. Weiner and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

“Weiner is gone, Spitzer is gone — next will be lightweight A.G. Eric Schneiderman,” Trump wrote. “Is he a crook? Wait and see, worse than Spitzer or Weiner.”

Gleason said Trump’s Twitter attack was prompted by his conversation with Cohen.

“That tweet that Trump sent out about Schneiderman,” Gleason said, “my conversation with Cohen happened shortly before that.”

On Friday afternoon, Wood ordered Gleason to file his request for a protective order as a formal legal motion, not a letter. If he did not do so by May 18, she said, he would have to withdraw the request. Gleason’s account was supported in part by Jeanne Wilcke, treasurer of the Downtown Independent Democrats, a New York City political club that Gleason belongs to. In an interview Friday, Wilcke said that in 2013, Gleason had warned her about Schneiderman without revealing any specific details.

“He told me I should be very careful about Schneiderman,” Wilcke said. “Not to be in a room alone with him — for women, it was bad.”

Wilcke, a former president of the organization, noted that the club had supported Schneiderman for many years. But, she added, “every once in a while, Pete would again give me a warning. It registered with me.”