President Donald Trump is doing his Twitter thing again. At this point the president's penchant for Twitter-related shenanigans merits a term of its own, but in lieu of that, one can simply recite what he said on the blue-based social media platform and hope that it speaks for itself.
The subject — or, more accurately phrased, the catalyst — of today's Twitter gaffes? A report from The New York Times on Friday revealed that Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer, had secretly recorded a conversation between himself and the future president from September 2016 in which they discussed a payout to former model Karen McDougal about an alleged affair between herself and the then-celebrity businessman.
Here is what Trump had to say about that on Saturday.
"Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) - almost unheard of," Trump wrote in his tweet. "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!"
This tweet is notable for three reasons. First, it shows Trump repeating a tactic that he has used since the FBI raided Cohen's office in April, which has been to deflect attention away from what they might have discovered by complaining about the process through which they will have discovered it. At the same time, the president broke away from one precedent he has thus far diligently followed — that is, avoiding saying negative things publicly about Cohen, with whom he was once quite close — by describing the possibility that Cohen would have secretly taped him as "totally unheard of" and "perhaps illegal."
Finally, there was this gem of a line, one that is certain to become iconic among those who collect and display Trump's memorably buffoonish bragging — namely, that is "your favorite President."
The conversation is reported to have involved Trump discussing payments being made to McDougal who claimed she had an affair with the future president in 2006, according to The New York Times. She sold her story to The National Enquirer for $150,000 only to have the pro-Trump publication sit on her story to keep it from going public, a practice known as "catch and kill." According to Trump's personal lawyer and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, the tapes have nothing that the president should be worried about. He insisted that the recording was less than two minutes long and stopped before the end of the conversation, that the president did not know he was being recorded and that he had done nothing wrong in it.
"Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance," Giuliani told the Times. The conversation is reported to have involved Trump and Cohen discussing how they could buy McDougal's story from the Enquirer, which would have effectively reimbursed the media outlet for catching and killing it so it wouldn't damage his presidential candidacy.
Not surprisingly, political commentators have seized upon the existence of these tapes to question what if any impact they will have on Trump's overall presidency. Take Paul Waldman of The Washington Post, who wrote:
The parade of scandals and controversies has been unceasing since Trump declared his candidacy in 2015, and it will never stop. If you’re waiting for the moment when things will calm down enough for us to focus on one thing at a time, you’ll be waiting until he leaves office.
As for the Cohen tapes, maybe they’ll turn out to be nothing, or at least not much. But one should never discount the power of audio (or video) tapes. Hearing a politician say something in his own voice has many times the impact of seeing his words in print. President Richard M. Nixon would probably have survived had it not been for the White House tapes, not just because of what he said, but because the whole country heard him say it.
And don’t forget it was during the seventh congressional investigation of Benghazi that Republicans discovered that Hillary Clinton had her own email server. Substantively it was all but meaningless — not to mention that it turned out to be the safest place for her to keep her emails, as the Russians could tell you — but, politically, it turned out to be rather a big deal. So you never know when something that looks trivial today could turn out tomorrow to be anything but.
In a different vein, Virginia Heffernan of the Los Angeles Times speculated as to whether the presence of this tape gives Americans a clue as to the potential kompromat that Russian President Vladimir Putin has on Trump.
Cohen’s apparent willingness to pay hush money on Trump’s behalf — especially in re. sex capers — also gives credence to the 2016 Trump-Russia dossier by ex-spy Christopher Steele. The dossier warned that the president was vulnerable to sexual blackmail and, if elected, could be grievously manipulated by the Kremlin.
In the Steele dossier, the story goes that the Kremlin knew about Trump’s financial tomfoolery — and maybe knew or had recorded something to do with urine and one of those luxe Stearns & Foster mattresses the Ritz-Carlton chain is known for.
Or, as the journalist Julia Ioffe wrote this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s kompromat might be hiding in plain sight: He’s the one who knows, and can say, that Trump didn’t win the presidency fair and square.
On the home front, kompromat also seems near to hand. If Cohen recorded his boss prattling on about his sexual needs, his extramarital girlfriends and his efforts to silence them, Cohen probably has some other receipts, too.
In an interesting twist, Michael Avenatti — the lawyer representing porn star Stormy Daniels, who also claims she had an affair with Trump — told MSNBC that if Cohen is "prepared to do the right thing and come clean, and basically turn state's evidence," he would consider representing him. In addition to being a potential conflict of interest, this proposal is also intriguing considering that Avenatti expressed a very low opinion of Cohen during an interview with Salon last month.
"He picked the wrong fixer to handle it. He picked the guy in Michael Cohen, who is not that tough and is a moron," Avenatti told Salon in June regarding the alleged cover-up of the $130,000 payment.