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the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

What an Incompetent Conspiracy Sounds Like

Donald Trump & Michael Cohen

Donald Trump & Michael Cohen

Not making any value judgments here, but Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s onetime consigliere, “fixer” and designated punching bag, is turning out to be something of a rat. I say that with about as much affection as can be mustered for anyone in the Trump gang.

My feeling is that as long as someone is going to be a rat, he or she might as well be a rat for the greater good of the country. It’s a good thing when a rat manages to put patriotism ahead of the sharp cheddar taste of loyalty to the biggest rat in the room who never looks out for underlings scurrying about doing its bidding.

Earlier this week, CNN aired an excerpt from a September 2016 meeting between Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump surreptitiously recorded by the former Trump Organization executive as he went about the dirty, grimy business of putting his boss’s “affairs” in order.

In April, the FBI raided Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room, seizing more than 100 recordings along with bags and boxes of evidence that could implicate the lawyer in state and federal crimes ranging from bank fraud to campaign finance violations.

The trove of evidence federal and state investigators are sifting through included the recorded conversation from which the recently aired exchange between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen was snipped.

The recording reveals two men routinely discussing details of how to get the rights to the National Enquirer’s “interview” with Playboy model Karen McDougal, a woman Mr. Trump had a 10-month affair with while his wife was occupied with their newborn son.

Even without the benefit of the full context, the two-minute recording sounds exactly like what a conversation between a client eager to conceal embarrassing extramarital conduct and his overworked sin-eater is supposed to sound — sleazy.

The recording more or less confirms what most Americans already know about the president. Even when Donald Trump is alone with one of his sycophants, he is in full “thug” mode. Consequently, he’ll always find a way to conspire with the fixers, hangers-on and various starstruck mercenaries who occupy his inner circle.

The tape is already one of the most valuable historical documents of the Trump presidency because it captures a man who famously shuns putting his thoughts into anything longer than a tweet, thinking out loud about the interlocking pieces of a predicament involving an ex-wife.

It shows a distracted man handling a crisis that could threaten his current marriage and sink his presidential aspirations in an ad hoc way, all the while demanding a Coke — and presumably, a smile.

Cohen: Um, so we got served from The New York Times. I told you this — we were…

Trump: To what?

Cohen: …To unseal the divorce papers with Ivana. Um, we’re fighting it. Um, [Trump attorney Marc] Kasowitz is going to —

Trump: They should never be able to get that done.

Cohen: Never. Never. Kasowitz doesn’t think they’ll ever be able to. They don’t have a —

Trump: Get me a Coke, please!

Cohen: They don’t have a legitimate purpose, so —

Trump: And you have a woman who doesn’t want them unsealed.

Cohen: Correct.

Trump: Who you’ve been handling.

Cohen: Yes. And —

Trump: And it’s been going on for a while.

Cohen: About two, three weeks now.

Trump: All you’ve got to do is delay for —

Cohen: Even after that, it’s not going to ever be opened. There’s no, there’s no purpose for it. Um, told you about Charleston. Um, I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David, you know, so that— I’m going to do that right away. I’ve actually come up and I’ve spoken —

Trump: Give it to me and [unintelligible].

Cohen: And, I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with …

Trump: So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?

Cohen: … funding. Yes. Um, and it’s all the stuff.

Trump: Yeah, I was thinking about that.

Cohen: All the stuff. Because — here, you never know where that company — you never know what he’s —

Trump: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.

Cohen: Correct. So, I’m all over that. And, I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing, which will be —

Trump: Wait a sec, what financing?

Cohen: Well, I’ll have to pay him something.

Trump: [unintelligible] pay with cash…

Cohen: No, no, no, no, no. I got it.

Trump: …check.

The excerpt cuts off abruptly, leading to a thousand conspiracy theories, including one from Mr. Trump alleging in a tweet that the recording cut off just as he was about to say something “positive” in the midst of a conspiracy to distribute hush money.

If nothing else, the tape reveals a man who always seems to find himself in circumstances that closely resemble a low-rent version of “The Sopranos.” It’s hard to miss the telling mob-like reference to National Enquirer publisher David Pecker as “our friend, David.” Rudy Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor, assures us that Mr. Trump’s words aren’t as bad as some of the mob recordings he’s heard over the years. What an endorsement! I half expect Paulie Walnuts Gualtieri to burst in with a box of cannoli and a Coke. 

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Tony Norman

Tony Norman

Tony Norman is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist. He was once the Post-Gazette’s pop music/pop culture critic and appeared as an expert on cultural issues on local radio talk shows and television programs. In 1996, he began writing an award-winning general interest column, which, he says, rejuvenated his enthusiasm for the kind of journalism that makes a difference.

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