Michael Cohen: A Modern-Day Snape
by Lorrie Kim
What if Snape had told the world what he really thought of Voldemort? What if he testified in public? Wrote a book? Invited Voldemort’s enemies onto his weekly podcast?
It might look a lot like what Michael Cohen is doing.
Since 2018, Michael Cohen has devoted his life to repairing the damage from crimes he committed as Trump’s “fixer,” his right-hand man. He recounts his crimes and reveals his inside knowledge in his 2020 book Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump and on his podcast, Mea Culpa.
Cohen’s story sheds light on Snape’s. The language he uses is strikingly similar to the language of Snape’s story. He knows that many people find him unforgivable and despicable. He describes the public perception of him as a divisive figure, “villain or savior, depending on your point of view” (Cohen, Disloyal 16). Like Snape, he speaks out to deliver a warning that can only come from someone who once committed the kind of crime he now opposes.
His introduction to Disloyal reads like an explanation of Snape’s function in the Harry Potter saga as a former Death Eater turned double agent.
As you read my story, you will no doubt ask yourself if you like me, or if you would act as I did, and the answer will frequently be no to both of those questions. But permit me to make a point: If you only read stories written by people you like, you will never be able to understand Donald Trump or the current state of the American soul. More than that, it’s only by actually understanding my decisions and actions that you can get inside Trump’s mind and understand his worldview. As anyone in law enforcement will tell you, it’s only gangsters who can reveal the secrets of organized crime.”
In other words, Cohen is teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts from the perspective of someone who has cast Dark Magic, undergone remorse, and now devotes his life to fighting it. This is the same perspective employed by Dumbledore, who can recognize traces of Dark Magic with what remains of his cursed hand, and Snape, who can heal the Dark Magic curse wounds that Mrs. Weasley and Madam Pomfrey cannot. Cohen’s statement, “I know where the skeletons are buried because I was the one who buried them” (Cohen 17), brings to mind images of Wormtail disposing of Bertha Jorkins, Barty Crouch Jr. burying his father, or Voldemort entombing fragments of his own soul.
Cohen’s parallels to Snape continue in his testimony to Congress in 2019 about campaign finance violations. Cohen admitted he was drawn to this tyrant for the power: “Being around Mr. Trump was intoxicating. When you were in his presence, you felt like you were involved in something greater than yourself — that you were somehow changing the world. […] I was so mesmerized by Donald Trump that I was willing to do things for him that I knew were absolutely wrong.”
Like Snape, Cohen was not forced into this path. He chose it and did not disavow responsibility: “I had agency in my relationship with Trump. I made choices along the way — terrible, heartless, stupid, cruel, dishonest, destructive choices, but they were mine and constituted my reality and life” (Cohen 17). The Dark Mark is voluntary and permanent.
When Cohen parted ways with Trump, it wasn’t because he had an awakening of conscience. Trump cut him off after the FBI raided him, and that’s what it took for Cohen to change, just as Snape only turned sides once Voldemort targeted Lily. Until those turning points, they pushed down their bad consciences and remained loyal, even though Cohen’s allegiance to Trump harmed his family life, as Snape’s bigotry cost him his friendship with Lily.
When Cohen began his prison sentence for tax evasion and campaign finance violations, he considered suicide (Cohen 15). But as Dumbledore once said to Snape in merciless tones, “And what use would that be to anyone?” (DH 678) What was right and brave, though not easy, was to remain alive to testify before Congress in February 2019 about Trump’s campaign finance violations. In his book, Cohen describes the intense emotions before testifying as comparable only to his feelings awaiting the births of his children. In this case, “I was that child being born, and all of the pain and blood were part of the birth of my new life and identity” (Cohen 15). That tension recalls Snape’s pallor and resolve in the hospital wing, at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, as he went forth to commence his life of double agency.
And then the late Representative Elijah Cummings, presiding over the hearings, extended a second chance to Cohen, as Dumbledore once did for Snape. Cummings acknowledged Cohen’s ordeals and fear for his family, then said, “But this is part of your destiny. And hopefully this portion of your destiny will lead to a better Michael Cohen, a better Donald Trump, a better United States of America, and a better world. And I mean that from the depths of my heart” (Cohen 21).
Cohen described the effect of these merciful words as “a kick in the gut”: “He understood that even the least of us deserve the opportunity to seek penance, redemption and a second chance in life. Cummings was the lone politician I encountered in all my travails who took an interest in me as a human being. When I reported to serve my sentence, he even took steps to ensure my security in prison. It was a selfless act of kindness for which I will always be grateful” (Cohen 20-21). Dumbledore was similarly kind to the guilty. Whether it was rescuing Umbridge from the Forbidden Forest, offering sanctuary to Lucius Malfoy, or giving Snape a purpose, Dumbledore’s protections and second chances were some of his most potent magic.
In a surprising turn, the first guest Cohen featured on his podcast Mea Culpa was Rosie O’Donnell. Starting in 2007, Trump had famously conducted a hate campaign against O’Donnell, with Cohen’s help. But with compassion that devastated him, O’Donnell wrote to Cohen in prison and even visited him, with no ulterior motive. At first, he didn’t know why anyone would do that. When he finally understood, this exposure to kindness was painful, almost beyond endurance, like Voldemort’s pain when he made contact with Harry’s love.
On his podcast, Cohen said, “Her kindness broke me into a million pieces, shattering what was left of my ego and pride. And when I put the pieces back together, I rediscovered the man that I used to be, that I used to be before Donald Trump. The man who could look at his wife and children in the eye and not be ashamed.”
Cohen’s description of shattering and piecing himself back together sounds similar to the way that Horcruxes can split your soul. The only way to become whole again is to feel remorse, although “the pain of it can destroy you,” as Hermione says (DH 103).
In Cohen’s book dedication, he wrote to his wife and children, “My greatest desire in life is to do whatever I can to make up for the pain I have caused you.” Dumbledore’s greatest desire, too, was to make things up to his parents, even though his parents were dead.
Cohen’s words about putting the pieces of himself back together, making up for the pain he has caused, and looking people in the eye without being ashamed gave me a new perspective on Snape’s final words to Harry, “Look … at … me” (DH 658).
Snape couldn’t apologize to Lily or offer his own life in exchange for hers; she was dead because of him. But I see Snape’s final act of acknowledging his original crimes to Harry, followed by showing his long campaign against Voldemort, as Snape saying he had given everything in his power during the second chance he was granted. On that score, at least, he could die looking Lily’s son in the eye.
To me, the importance of Snape’s story was never whether he was likable or a good person. It was the mercy in knowing that even someone who has done evil can still choose to do good in the world with the time they have left, and the value in knowing that some things can only be done, some Dark Magic that can only be reversed, by someone who once chose evil and lived to regret it.