The leaked tape recording of Michael Cohen and Donald Trump discussing how to handle the payoff to silence yet another extracurricular paramour, Karen McDougal, is more important, it seems to me, than has been generally acknowledged.
It’s only a shade under three minutes long. But unlike the Billy Bush tape, Trump is not performing or bragging or trying to charm someone he doesn’t know that well. He’s at work, with an intimate, trusted wingman, every single guard down. It really feels like the actual Trump, the man behind the curtain. And this Trump is quite clearly in charge. He’s not some addled 70-something, delegating large swathes of responsibility for day-to-day operations to underlings. He’s clearly aware of everything that’s going on: “Let me know what’s happening, okay?” he says to someone — Pam (Bondi)? — on the phone at first. He talks about how some issue will blow over: “I think this goes away quickly … in two weeks; it’s fine.” He then asks Cohen, “Can we use him anymore?” referring to an Evangelical pastor, and Cohen says absolutely.
Then they briefly discuss “the financing” for the National Enquirer’s capture and withholding of the McDougal story. “So, what do we got to pay for this? $150?” Trump asks at one point, meaning $150,000. The question of “cash” is raised by Trump (the precise wording is hard to make out from the audio), and Cohen strongly rules it out: “No, no, no.”
What this tiny glimpse into reality reveals is something quite simple. It’s not that it’s a shock that Trump has been lying about this incident from the very beginning. That has long been clear. But there’s something about listening to his voice acknowledging this in such a breezy, matter-of-fact tone that exposes the purity of the cynicism behind the lies. “We have no knowledge of any of this,” Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks, had, after all, originally told The Wall Street Journal when it broke the story days before the 2016 election. The idea that Trump had had an affair at all, let alone organized hush money to the National Enquirer, was “totally untrue.” And yet here, as the curtain is pulled back, we hear Trump himself figuring out how to finance its cover-up. [Continue reading…]