Unless Giuliani is Lying, This Michael Cohen Story Appears to be No Big Deal (On Its Own)


One of the more frustrating aspects of interpreting news in the Trump era is that it is nearly impossible to even know for sure what the real facts are. Instead, we are all often reduced to flailing around like a kid playing pin the tail on the donkey.

Today’s latest “bombshell,” that Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen recording him during the 2016 campaign discussing the suppression of an affair is a perfect example of this phenomenon. There are many different ways to view the story, depending mostly on how you perceive those who are directly involved.

For the anti-Trump crowd, this revelation has provoked literal rejoicing over the prospect that investigators may have direct evidence of Trump being involved in a cover up. However, even as harsh critic of the president, I am not at all convinced that this development, at least not on its own, is politically significant at all.

Now, this assessment is based on a premise which, admittedly, is much more flimsy than it should normally be. I am presuming, for the sake of this analysis, that the president’s current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is not blatantly lying about the nature of the recording (a foundation of which, partially for reasons outlined here, I am not nearly as confident as I should be).

If we give Giuliani’s statements credibility, then we can reach these preliminary conclusions:

  • The woman about whom Trump and Cohen were speaking was Karen McDougal, who everyone already knows had an affair with Trump and who still clearly loves him.
  • Cohen never directly paid McDougal, who had apparently already been paid by The National Enquirer at the time of the conversation with Trump.
  • Nothing apparently happened on Trump or Cohen’s end with regard to McDougal as a result of the conversation between Trump and Cohen.
  • The conversation was so short (reportedly only two minutes) that discussing the complexities of the McDougal/National Enquirer conspiracy would have been totally implausible.
  • Trump told Cohen to use a check and not cash so that there would be a record of the transaction, which is either an act of colossal stupidity, or of someone who doesn’t think they are doing something illegal (the nature of Trump being Trump of course makes it more difficult than normal to rely on what would be normal logic in these situations).

If this is all true, then the story, on its own, is apparently much ado about almost nothing, at least politically. At most, the tape confirms that Trump had an affair with a woman with whom most people already assumed he had an affair and, because she is smoking hot, for which his male fans will literally cheer him. His fans will also see a “secret recording” as inherently illegitimate and it will destroy Cohen’s credibility with them going forward.

Now, it is quite possible that we don’t have all of the facts. The timing of recording and the apparent reference to “payments” (plural) certainly bring in the possibility that they were also referencing Stormy Daniels, who was directly paid by Cohen after this conversation. It is also possible that Giuliani is all too eager to confirm that the conversation was about McDougal alone because he knows that her story is far less legally perilous for Trump than Daniels’ is.

This analysis from The Washington Post on the possible legal ramifications of this situation, assuming it was indeed just about McDougal, is very compelling, but leaves one with the strong sense that it would be a fairly minor offense and extremely difficult to prove, especially against a sitting president of the United States. Obviously with any other modern president just proving he lied about an affair would do great damage to him without even the campaign finance and cover-up aspects of the story, but obviously we all know by now that in the Trump era, as Dorothy famously said to her dog Toto, “We are not in Kansas anymore.”

Of course, there is one giant caveat to this entire view of the story, one to which I have already alluded. If this is just one of many tapes Cohen has of his conversations with Trump about these matters, then what we are learning about today might really be only the very tip of the iceberg, one which may indeed threaten to finally sink the USS Trumptanic.

John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issuesand is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud  or email him at johnz@mediaite.com

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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