When Donald Trump wanted to get into the movie business, he sent Michael Cohen to Miami to broker the deal.
It was the summer of 2012 when the future president's self-described "fixer" donned a dark suit and a purple tie to pitch county commissioners on converting county land outside Homestead into an 800-acre production facility called "Trump Studio City."
"I'm the executive vice president of the Trump Organization and special counsel to Donald Trump," Cohen said from the well of the nearly empty commission chambers on June 5, 2012, as he launched into a presentation on a production hub designed to rival Hollywood.
"This facility, along with Mr. Trump's relationships in the industry, would drive film and television production to Miami," Cohen said in his now-signature Long Island accent. "Taxes will be collected. And land values in that area will certainly improve."
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Trump's brief flirtation with a Homestead movie studio remains a well-known local chapter in the celebrity mogul's long history of Miami business deals and would-be ventures. Less memorable is the starring role of Cohen, now the most famous of Trump's private-sector advisers for paying alleged hush money to a porn star who claimed an affair with the president.
"Is that right?! I didn't even remember the man," said Commissioner Dennis Moss, who represents Homestead and spoke to Cohen from the dais during that 2012 meeting. "I didn't realize Cohen — the fixer — was trying to put a fix on us."
Cohen said in court filings this week that he planned to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and would decline to testify in civil litigation related to the payment to actress Stephanie Clifford, who appears in pornographic movies under the stage name Stormy Daniels.
On Thursday, Trump distanced himself from Cohen, saying the lawyer performed little legal work for him. "Michael would represent me on some things," the president told "Fox and Friends." "He represents me, like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me."
When Cohen came to Miami on Trump's behalf, he was a relatively obscure senior executive to the mogul. While high up in the Trump Organization, he was far less well-known than Trump's children and even his secretary, who were supporting characters in the hit business-competition television show, "The Apprentice."
Still, the lawyer served as a top deal maker for the Trump Organization. He was involved in Trump's negotiations to purchase the old Marriott Doral out of bankruptcy in early 2012, and helped pursue Trump licensing deals overseas.
In 2012, Cohen's personal appearance in Miami for the studio pitch was billed as an encouraging sign of Trump's interest — but not a commitment. Luring Trump himself to Miami would require far more progress, according to Cohen.
"Right now, this is so preliminary. It's the reason why Mr. Trump has elected not to come today," Cohen told commissioners. "It would make no sense for him to be here. Nevertheless, he still requested that I attend this forum within which to express the potential within which to do it."
The studio talks started with Joe Martinez, who was using his perch as commission chairman to mount an ultimately unsuccessful challenge to incumbent Carlos Gimenez in the 2012 mayoral race. Martinez reached out to Trump after the Marriott sale and said the two talked on the phone about Martinez's stalled effort to bring a movie studio to Miami.
A dinner followed at Mar-a-Lago "with Donald and Melania," Martinez told commissioners, mispronouncing the future first lady's name with a long "a" in the second syllable.
Though they dined together, Martinez said this week that was the end of Trump's face-to-face role in the studio venture. It was Cohen who drove around the site with Martinez for what the commissioner described as a reluctant scouting mission.
"I just don't think he was very into it," Martinez said of Cohen this week. "He was just doing what Donald — err, Mr. Trump — told him to do."
Cohen's 2012 mission to County Hall highlights Trump's extensive Miami ties — arguably the most of any other U.S. president, with the possible exception of Richard Nixon and his Key Biscayne "Winter White House."
Before running for president, Trump signed a string of licensing deals for condominium towers in Sunny Isles Beach and remains the owner of one of Miami-Dade's largest hotels, the Trump National Doral Miami. In 2015, Trump pursued another county deal — a bid to take over the public golf course in Miami-Dade's Crandon Park.
Those talks included a 2013 round of golf with Gimenez, but commissioners opposed the project and Trump officially withdrew his proposal on May 2, 2015. Six weeks later, he announced his presidential bid after descending an escalator in New York's Trump Tower.
The Miami studio deal never materialized, with deed restrictions and existing leases making the land outside the Homestead Air Reserve Base a far more challenging development site than it had first appeared. Talks between county officials, Cohen and other Trump representatives stopped without fanfare in 2012. "It just petered out," said Ed Russo, a Trump deputy involved in various Miami-Dade deals.
But for about a year, Cohen was trying to secure what would have been an historic agreement — both for Miami-Dade and Trump himself. The idea was to convert the idle site into a year-round hub for producing movies and television, offering producers modern and spacious sound stages and editing facilities to go with Miami's lush tropical exteriors.
"I want to confirm my interest in the pursuit of creating this new industry in South Florida," Trump wrote commissioners several months after Cohen's appearance, " and I know it will be a spectacular success."