Trump fumes about Cohen’s se­cret tape

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Nation & World - BY KATIE ROGERS AND MAG­GIE HABER­MAN New York Times

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump lashed out at his long­time lawyer, Michael Cohen, on Satur­day, sug­gest­ing that there could be le­gal consequences for Cohen’s de­ci­sion to record a dis­cus­sion they had two months be­fore the 2016 elec­tion about pay­ing a for­mer Play­boy model who said she had an af­fair with Trump.

“In­con­ceiv­able that the gov­ern­ment would break into a lawyer’s of­fice (early in the morn­ing) – al­most un­heard of,” Trump wrote on Twit­ter. “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!”

With his tweet, the lat­est in a week of dizzy­ing state­ments by a pres­i­dent whose ad­vis­ers say has be­come more un­will­ing than ever to lis­ten to advice, Trump sig­naled open war­fare on Cohen, a long­time fixer he had un­til now tried to keep by his side. The Jus­tice De­part­ment is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Cohen’s in­volve­ment in pay­ing women to quash po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing news cov­er­age about Trump dur­ing the cam­paign.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Cohen, the one­time keeper of Trump’s per­sonal and busi­ness se­crets, re­mains a source of deep con­cern for the pres­i­dent’s lawyers, and in re­cent months, Trump has of­fered pub­lic mes­sages en­cour­ag­ing Cohen to stay loyal to him.

In late April, the pres­i­dent said on Twit­ter that “I have al­ways liked & re­spected” Cohen, and that while “most peo­ple will flip if the Gov­ern­ment” spares them pun­ish­ment, “I don’t see Michael do­ing that.” But this month, Cohen sug­gested that he was look­ing se­ri­ously at co­op­er­at­ing with pros­e­cu­tors, telling ABC News that he would “put fam­ily and coun­try first.”

While the pres­i­dent sug­gested Satur­day that Cohen’s record­ing may have been il­le­gal, New York law al­lows one party to a con­ver­sa­tion to tape it with­out the other know­ing. Over the years, Cohen, in his deal­ings on Trump’s be­half with jour­nal­ists, op­pos­ing lawyers and busi­ness ad­ver­saries, fre­quently taped his con­ver­sa­tions, un­be­known to the peo­ple with whom he was speak­ing. Trump him­self also has a history of record­ing phone calls and con­ver­sa­tions.

Af­ter learn­ing about the tape, The New York Times ap­proached Trump’s per­sonal lawyer, Rudy Gi­u­liani. A per­son fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sions said that once The Times ap­proached Gi­u­liani, the pres­i­dent’s le­gal team chose not to as­sert at­tor­ney-client priv­i­lege over the record­ing.

In go­ing af­ter his long­time as­so­ci­ate, Trump, who left Wash­ing­ton on Fri­day to spend the week­end at his Bed­min­ster, New Jer­sey, golf course, added another chaotic twist to a head­spin­ning week that be­gan with a widely con­demned news con­fer­ence with Vladimir Putin, the Rus­sian pres­i­dent, in Helsinki. It was also another ex­am­ple of how the pres­i­dent tries to bar­rel for­ward into another news cy­cle af­ter a spate of un­flat­ter­ing news cov­er­age.

But at the same time, Trump’s largely un­con­vinc­ing ef­forts to re­pair the dam­age by as­sert­ing that he in fact ac­cepts that Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the elec­tion – and the in­abil­ity of his aides to per­suade the pres­i­dent to make a de­ci­sive pivot on the is­sue – has kept the news from Helsinki front and cen­ter.

The fran­tic con­ver­sa­tions over what to do be­gan on the flight home. While the pres­i­dent groused about the dif­fi­culty of the ques­tions posed to him by U.S. jour­nal­ists, John R. Bolton, the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, mostly stayed away from Trump.

Bolton wrote down four bul­let points aboard Air Force One that he be­lieved were rel­e­vant, in­clud­ing that Trump should ac­knowl­edge that he be­lieved the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies’ find­ings on the Rus­sian med­dling. He re­layed them to the press sec­re­tary, Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, al­though it was un­clear whether the sug­ges­tions were de­liv­ered to the pres­i­dent.

On the plane, Trump’s mood vac­il­lated from snap­pish to up­beat. He asked ad­vis­ers once again about the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee server that was hacked (he had raised the server is­sue while stand­ing next to Putin), and why cy­ber­in­trud­ers had not pen­e­trated Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee sys­tems.

In the days since ar­riv­ing back home, Trump has sur­veyed al­most ev­ery­one he has talked to about his per­for­mance in Fin­land, but few told him just how poorly it had gone. Aides sug­gested dif­fer­ent op- tions for “chang­ing the nar­ra­tive,” with­out seem­ing to re­al­ize that a sim­ple story would not suf­fice.

Trump ul­ti­mately came up with his own so­lu­tion: He would say he had left out a word in the news con­fer­ence with Putin. “The sen­tence should have been, ‘I don’t see any rea­son why it wouldn’t be Rus­sia,’ ” Trump said Tues­day, try­ing to clear up the con­fu­sion but heap­ing on more. “Sort of a dou­ble neg­a­tive.”

By Satur­day, the pres­i­dent tried to move the fo­cus away from his deal­ings with Rus­sia by tar­get­ing Cohen. But in do­ing so, he shifted the story back to another mat­ter nag­ging his pres­i­dency: ac­cu­sa­tions by women that Trump’s lawyers had paid them for their si­lence in the wake of ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs be­fore he was elected pres­i­dent.

The pres­i­dent’s aides have had lit­tle to say about those pay­ments. The White House did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment Sat- ur­day. In the past, though, the pres­i­dent’s aides have called the ac­count of the af­fair by the for­mer model, Karen McDou­gal, “an old story that is just more fake news,” and have de­nied that the pres­i­dent was in­volved.

In re­sponse to the pres­i­dent’s tweet Satur­day, Lanny J. Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, who for­merly served in the Clin­ton White House, hit back at Trump and Gi­u­liani. Their le­gal strat­egy was “flawed,” he said, ad­dress­ing a com­ment by Gi­u­liani that the record­ing could ul­ti­mately clear the pres­i­dent of wrong­do­ing.

“The strat­egy of @re­aldon­aldtrump @potus @RudyGi­u­liani is flawed; just as is #Trump’s false #Twit­ter state­ment made against @michael­co­hen212 this morn­ing. Rudy claims the tape is “ex­cul­pa­tory”. Why so an­gry?” Davis wrote.

The record­ing is sure to raise new ques­tions about what the pres­i­dent knew about the pay­ments and when.


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tweeted Satur­day about lawyer Michael Cohen, say­ing it was “in­con­ceiv­able that a lawyer would tape a client – to­tally un­heard of & per­haps il­le­gal.”

Michael Cohen

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