On Friday, The New York Times reported that in the April raid on Trump attorney and personal fixer Michael Cohen, the FBI seized a recording of then-candidate Trump discussing a payoff to Playmate Karen McDougal (who was paid $150,000 by National Enquirer parent AMI for her account of an affair she claims she had with Trump) two months prior to the election.
As the Times wrote, “prosecutors want to know whether that [payoff] violated federal campaign finance laws.”
That news was consistent with earlier reports that Cohen often taped conversations with clients. Because Cohen’s list of clients is famously short (it’s basically just Trump, Sean Hannity and one other person), the public is left to
collude conclude that the FBI likely has multiple recordings of the President.
One can only begin to speculate about what might be on those tapes, but now we know what’s on the recording of Cohen and Trump discussing McDougal. According to the Washington Post, this is the gist of it:
In the brief recording made in September 2016, Cohen can be heard telling Trump that AMI had recently purchased the rights to McDougal’s account of a 10-month affair that allegedly took place soon after he married Melania.
Cohen then proposed that Trump buy the rights to “control” the inflammatory story, according to multiple people familiar with the exchange.
Two people familiar with the conversation said Cohen was suggesting Trump buy the rights from AMI.
Trump is largely silent in the conversation, the people said, neither expressing surprise nor indicating whether he knew previously about the AMI deal.
He asks Cohen how they would pursue buying the rights. The two men discuss whether to use a check, rather than cash, which would create a record, according to the people. A Trump adviser said Trump suggested using a check, while a person close to Cohen claimed Cohen was the one who advised that route.
Again, all of this comes amid reports that Cohen is likely to cooperate with investigators and it comes just weeks after he told ABC the following about the prospect that he would defend his former boss irrespective of the ramifications of not rolling:
My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will. I put family and country first.
It’s probably time for Trump to reassess this:
Cohen attorney Lanny Davis said the following on Friday about the McDougal tape:
Obviously, there is an ongoing investigation, and we are sensitive to that. But suffice it to say that when the recording is heard, it will not hurt Mr. Cohen. Any attempt at spin can not change what is on the tape.
That, after Rudy Giuliani claimed the recording is “powerful exculpatory evidence in the big scheme of things.” It wasn’t clear what exactly that meant, although Giuliani did add this:
Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of [the AMI payment] in advance.
In any event, Trump ultimately blames the Cohen situation on Jeff Sessions’ recusal (it was Rod Rosenstein who authorized the raid). In angry comments delivered just after news of the raid hit, Trump explicitly mentioned Sessions and since then, Jeff has been battling to keep his job and has endured withering criticism from Trump’s increasingly unhinged Twitter feed.
Well, speaking of Trump’s Twitter feed, on Saturday morning, the President tweeted the following about the taped conversation:
Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) – almost unheard of. Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client – totally unheard of & perhaps illegal. The good news is that your favorite President did nothing wrong!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 21, 2018
For one thing, neither of those two things are “inconceivable” and even if the latter point about the tapes is “inconceivable” to Trump, it’s probably time he starts “conceiving” of it or otherwise coming to terms with it, because it did in fact happen, so pondering philosophical questions about whether the human mind is capable of wrapping itself around such a thing serves no purpose.
Additionally, the “early in the morning” bit is absurd because it’s not clear why that’s a “better” or “worse” time to raid a lawyer unless he’s referring to the idea that had Cohen been given a courtesy call in advance (“Hi, we’ll be there around lunchtime, does that work for you?“) he would have had time to destroy evidence, something Sean Hannity thinks maybe it’s time to start doing.
As to that “good news” bit there at the end, the jury is still out on that. And while for now, we use the term “jury” in a figurative sense, one certainly imagines that by the time this is all said and done, we might be using it in a literal sense on the way to breaking the “bad” news about how “your favorite President” has been indicted on a list of charges that’s longer than the ties he wears.