To paraphrase former FBI director, James Comey, “Lordy, there are tapes.” Tuesday night, CNN obtained and released one of the twelve audio recordings made by Donald Trump‘s former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen of an exchange between him and then-candidate Trump in September 2016. In the recording, Cohen and Trump are discussing making a payment to kill the story of Playboy model Karen McDougal who alleges having a 10-month affair with Trump in 2016.
Full audio: Presidential candidate Trump is heard on tape discussing with his attorney Michael Cohen how they would buy the rights to a Playboy model’s story about an alleged affair Trump had with her years earlier, according to the audio recording “https://t.co/YmC0QuDqTx pic.twitter.com/fBbq7r1Lq9
— Cuomo Prime Time (@CuomoPrimeTime) July 25, 2018
More specifically, Cohen and Trump talk making a payment of $150,000 to American Media Inc. (which owns the National Enquirer) to buy the rights to McDougal’s story and squash it (a practice called “catch-and-kill” in the biz). AMI CEO David Pecker is a friend and huge proponent of Donald Trump and was subpoenaed last week in connection with the investigation into Michael Cohen.
While the specifics of the exchange are significant, the overall tone is also telling. The casualness and familiarity with which the two discuss the payoff, and even the formation of a shell corporation to make it happen, indicates that they’ve probably had this conversation before. Possibly multiple times and about multiple women.
These tapes were recovered by the FBI in a raid of Cohen’s office, home and hotel room back in April. The public just learned of their existence on the weekend, and it was Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis who gave them to CNN, suggesting Trump’s former right-hand-man is flipping on the big guy. And it looks like he’s got a lot of dirt. In fact, even just this first little tidbit has caught the Trump administration in a bald-faced lie.
Way back in 2016, The Wall Street Journal broke the story that AMI had purchased and squashed the McDougal story for Donald Trump. The important thing here is the timing — we learned of this just days before the election and the story was presumably silenced purposefully to avoid bad press at a crucial moment. If the story was paid for for that purpose, it should be considered a campaign donation and reported and scrutinized accordingly. It was not.
At the time, then-communications director Hope Hicks denied that the affair between Trump and McDougal had happened at all and told the press that the campaign had “no knowledge” of any payment. The fact that Trump can be very clearly heard making arrangements for a pay-off in this clip is proof of the opposite. Either Hope Hicks was lied to and provided the information she had at the time, or she was lying. Either way, Donald Trump himself was not truthful.
And it doesn’t appear he feels he needs to be. He said as much mere hours before the Cohen tape was released. At a veterans event earlier Tuesday, Trump again railed on his least favourite media outlets (NBC and CNN) about their FAKE NEWS coverage.
He then made this chilling statement: “Just remember: what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening.”
“Just remember: what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” pic.twitter.com/T0XQopBwBD
— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 24, 2018
Sound familiar? A little like that book you were forced to read in high school that was a little boring and seemed more than a little far fetched? The book you’re thinking of is George Orwell’s 1984 and Trump’s statement is almost a direct quote. Terrifying.
“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” — George Orwell, “1984”
“Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” — Donald Trump, 2018 https://t.co/NXajB0BNBS
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 24, 2018
And lo and behold, immediately after the tape dropped, the Trump team was out in full force trying to gaslight the public into thinking the things we were hearing with our own ears weren’t accurate. They released their own transcript of the tape with one crucial detail — they tried to clarify an unintelligible part of the audio to make Trump look better.
At the very end of the clip, the following can be heard:
Trump: “[Unintelligible] pay with cash . . .”
Cohen: “No, no, no, no, no, no. I got it. No, no. . . ”
In the transcript released by the White House, they quote the president as saying, “Don’t pay with cash . . . cheque.” The important distinction was noted by Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani who said that the fact that Trump wanted to pay with a cheque means that he wanted to keep the whole thing above board. If that’s even what he said.
As if we needed more reasons to be suspicious of anything and everything coming out of the Trump White House.