On Thursday, July 26, 2018, federal authorities seized more than 100 tape recordings made by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, including the bombshell tape CNN published 2 days earlier appearing to feature Donald Trump discussing a payoff to former Playboy model Karen MacDougal. Yet, while Trump only makes a cameo in some of the fragments, the tape released is only one featuring a substantive conversation between the two men. Though a number of tapes reportedly capture conversations Cohen had with journalists asking about his former boss. While others may have included talk sometimes touching on Trump and his unethical business practices.
In the tape released on CNN, Donald Trump and Michael Cohen can be heard discussing a payment to Karen MacDougal, who received $150,000 in exchange for selling her story about her Trump affair to the National Inquirer. The American Media, Inc. publication bought her tale specifically to keep her quiet. Yet, this recording confirms that Trump knew about Cohen’s involvement in the MacDougal payoff. Nevertheless, Cohen’s MacDougal tape release seemed to suggest that his once steadfast allegiance to Trump had truly begun to waver.
According to Cohen’s attorney and longtime Clinton ally, Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen would occasionally secretly record conversations with clients in lieu of taking notes. As he told the Washington Post, “Michael Cohen had the habit of using his phone to record conversations instead of taking notes. He never intended to make use of the recordings and certainly didn’t intend to be deceptive.” Still, these revelations around this new tape trove are only the latest developments hinting that Trump’s self-described “fix-it guy” might’ve been considering to flip.
On Friday, July 27, 2018, Michael Cohen has become willing to tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller that Donald Trump had advance knowledge of the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting in which Russians offered campaign aides Hillary Clinton dirt. In case you don’t know, on June 9,2016, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer and 4 others with Russian ties. An email to Trump Jr. Setting up the meeting claimed the Russian government had incriminating information on Clinton to offer. Yet, though all parties present nothing of significance came out of it, it has played a major role in Mueller’s investigation whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to interfere in the 2016 campaign. According to CNN, “Cohen alleges that he was present, along with several others, when Trump was informed of the Russians’ offer by Trump Jr. By Cohen’s account, Trump approved going ahead with the meeting with the Russians, according to sources.” While Cohen didn’t have a tape recording on him at the time nor evidence to corroborate this claim, his revelation comes as a surprise to no one.
Robert Mueller reportedly wants to ask Donald Trump when he learned about the Trump Tower meeting. He’s also investigated the false statement claiming adoptions, Trump helped his son draft last July in response to the meeting’s early reports. But while there’s been a lot of talk about Michael Cohen potentially flipping on Trump, there’s not yet word of him in talks with prosecutors about a plea deal. If Cohen eventually turns on his former client, this investigation might not be the only one where he’ll face questions.
So why would make the longstanding loyal Michael Cohen decide to flip? Mostly because while Donald Trump may expect unwavering loyalty from his subordinates, he usually doesn’t return the favor the associate in trouble starts becoming a liability. Cohen is no different since he’s currently under federal criminal investigation on his business dealings and payments he made covering up Trump’s alleged extramarital affairs. And there’s an open question around whether some of these payoffs were campaign finance violations since they were made in during the 2016 presidential campaign. As the pressure grew on him in recent months following a government office raid, Cohen reportedly felt Trump abandoned him with much of his recent reaction apparently fueled by a sense of betrayal. A Cohen associate characterized Trump’s treatment of his former attorney as akin to “leaving him out in the wilderness.”
Adding to Michael Cohen’s troubles, federal investigators from New York’s Southern District have subpoenaed Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg to testify in front of a grand jury since he was named-dropped in the September 2016 tape as well as linked to the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. In the latter, he set up a $35,000 retainer for Cohen from Trump’s personal trust as a repayment to the $130,000 hush money Cohen arranged for Daniels. Though it’s unclear if Weisselberg knew of the retainer’s purpose as a reimbursement for Daniels’ payoff. However, his mention hints at the possibility that the Trump Organization was directly involved in discussions to reimburse National Inquirer publisher AMI for MacDougal’s hush money payment. Weisselberg’s subpoena is a huge deal since he’s worked for the Trump Organization for decades as well as Trump’s father Fred in the 1970s. Since Trump became president, Weisselberg has co-managed the Trump Organization with his boss’ elder sons and is crucial to the business. He’s also listed as treasurer of the Trump Foundation, which the New York Attorney General’s Office sued for violating state and federal laws as well as did Trump’s personal tax returns for at least some years. So if there’s anything shady in Trump or his company’s finances, Weisselberg would know about it. As TrumpNation author Timothy L. O’Brien wrote in Bloomberg:
“Weisselberg isn’t a bit player in Trumplandia and his emergence on the Cohen-Trump recording — as someone possibly facilitating a scheme apparently meant to disguise a payoff — should worry the president. Weisselberg has detailed information about the Trump Organization’s operations, business deals and finances. If he winds up in investigators’ crosshairs for secreting payoffs, he could potentially provide much more damaging information to prosecutors than Cohen ever could about the president’s dealmaking.”
A former Trump Organization employee told NBC’s Katy Tur that “Alan [sic] knows where all financial bodies are buried within the Trump organization. He knows Trump’s net worth. He knows any and every expenditure out of Trump Org was approved by Alan [sic].” While Cohen might flip, he’s not the only one to know about Donald Trump’s financial secrets, particularly his Russian ties and his tax returns. After all, O’Brien writes that Weisselberg, “knows more about the Trump Organization’s history and finances than nearly anyone.” And if he admits to anything, it’ll be only a matter of time that he’ll be in hot water as Trump leaves him to the dogs.
But whether Michael Cohen flips or not, Donald Trump has slammed his taping of their discussion as “inconceivable” as if he framed his longtime amoral stooge as a villain and seeking to cast doubt on any negative ramifications this conversation might have for him. “Why was the tape so abruptly terminated (cut) while I was presumably saying positive things?” he tweeted. Trump attorney and sycophant Rudy Giuliani has acknowledged the tape’s existence but denied that his client did anything wrong. “Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance,” he told The New York Times. Then in a moment of idiocy, he added that Trump even passed for using a check to ensure proper documentation if any payment should transpire. Still, given that Cohen is facing serious legal jeopardy with charges of bank fraud, wire fraud, and potential campaign violations and Trump is unlikely to help him, we may one day see the fixer flip indeed.
Nonetheless, Michael Cohen’s tapes of Donald Trump and testimony about the Trump Tower meeting puts Trump’s duplicity on full display. Or at least confirm many people’s suspicions. Prosecutors may love tapes but so do juries that will eventually convict. Thus, even if the tapes don’t prove anything, the evidence is damning.