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CNN obtains secret Trump-Cohen audio recording

Presidential candidate Donald Trump is heard on tape discussing with attorney Michael Cohen how they would buy the rights to a Playboy model's story about an alleged affair Trump had with her years earlier.

Posted: Jul 25, 2018 7:12 PM
Updated: Jul 25, 2018 7:29 PM

Reading anything into a short, grainy tape recording is difficult. But from the moment that CNN's Chris Cuomo shared one of the Michael Cohen tapes, experts have sliced and diced the audio to figure out exactly what then-candidate Donald Trump knew about a payment to keep his alleged affair with former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal off the front pages.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the tape is just how normal Trump sounds when the cameras are not on. He carries on his conversation with one unnamed person (likely on the phone), as well as with his lawyer Michael Cohen, in a relatively controlled and deliberative voice. This is not the same Trump who we heard and still hear speaking in half-sentences. Nor is it the Trump who continually tosses out statements made on Fox News to his audiences, simply to stir up the base.

No, on this tape we hear a little bit of a methodical and controlled candidate who is trying to figure out how to handle a potential problem in his campaign -- how to kill an embarrassing story. He listens, absorbs and responds. He knows what is going on, and he wants a workable plan.

While we certainly can't read too much into this short piece of audio, it does create the possibility that Trump is much more strategic about how he conducts his business. Though many critics depict him as a deranged and unstable leader, while supporters love to think of him as "just being himself," the tape suggests another possibility.

Namely, Trump is playing a part in front of the cameras -- the norm-breaking, in-your face conservative populist who is attempting to maintain his razor-thin electoral coalition of loyal Trump fanatics, stalwart Republican voters and disaffected Democrats. When he conducts a press conference in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he defends the Russians and attacks the American intelligence community, there is a thought-through rationale for why he does so. When he tweets out provocative statements about NFL players or political opponents, he is attempting to trigger certain responses and to push the conversation in specific directions. When he allows children to be separated from their families at the border, he is trying to send a harsh message.

The tape allows us to hear a Trump who has a game plan that will allow him to pursue policy initiatives that matter to him and control and direct the media narrative about his presidency -- all the while working toward re-election in 2020. Whether it works is an unknown, but there is a plan.

And he is not the only president to be misjudged by his friends and foes. Political scientist Fred Greenstein once wrote a classic work in which he argued that Dwight Eisenhower conducted a "hidden hand" presidency during the 1950s. Although many commentators saw Eisenhower as an affable war hero who delegated his decisions to Cabinet officials, it turned out he played a much larger role than we knew. He dominated the policy machinery of the White House, and he never delegated much power to his staff. The President was more cunning and in control than the public ever imagined.

A similar story happened under Ronald Reagan, who was once dismissed as a lightweight, unintelligent actor who let his advisers do all the work. That was until archival findings revealed a President who was very much in command of every decision and every statement that came out of the White House.

It will be many decades until we know the truth about how Trump acts behind the scenes. Until we have the archival records from his administration and reliable memoirs of his White House, our interpretation of how he operated will depend on a few fragments of evidence.

But the tape provides one of those, and listening to it suggests that there is a method to his madness and that should be eye-opening for opponents who think there is no way he can possibly make it to the end of his term or get re-elected.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 31257

Reported Deaths: 1114
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds253640
DeSoto162016
Madison131434
Jones112849
Neshoba99271
Rankin95112
Harrison93311
Lauderdale91079
Forrest87842
Scott77315
Jackson63816
Copiah60715
Washington5919
Leake57819
Holmes55741
Lee55219
Wayne54513
Oktibbeha54126
Warren51618
Yazoo5136
Lowndes49413
Leflore49151
Grenada4905
Lincoln46634
Lamar4657
Pike44112
Monroe40330
Sunflower4008
Lafayette3934
Attala36123
Covington3595
Panola3526
Bolivar34014
Newton3399
Simpson3233
Adams31318
Pontotoc2926
Tate28810
Marion28411
Chickasaw27918
Claiborne27910
Noxubee2678
Winston2666
Jasper2636
Pearl River25732
Clay25111
Marshall2343
Smith21811
Union2109
Clarke20724
Walthall2045
Coahoma2016
Kemper17914
Lawrence1782
Yalobusha1737
Carroll16611
Humphreys1509
Tallahatchie1374
Itawamba1368
Montgomery1352
Calhoun1324
Tippah13111
Hancock13013
Webster12710
Jefferson Davis1124
Jefferson1083
Prentiss1083
Greene1058
Tunica1053
Wilkinson949
Amite912
George893
Tishomingo831
Quitman780
Choctaw744
Alcorn712
Perry674
Stone651
Franklin452
Benton380
Sharkey380
Issaquena91
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 44375

Reported Deaths: 984
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson5410152
Montgomery4158103
Mobile4129134
Tuscaloosa232142
Marshall172410
Madison14917
Lee141137
Shelby133423
Morgan11215
Walker97824
Elmore94314
Franklin89814
Baldwin8949
Dallas8919
Etowah75013
DeKalb7375
Chambers64227
Butler63428
Autauga61012
Tallapoosa60569
Russell5650
Houston5074
Unassigned50323
Limestone5010
Lauderdale4966
Lowndes47221
Cullman4594
Pike4375
Colbert4086
St. Clair4022
Escambia3966
Coffee3812
Calhoun3765
Covington3707
Bullock36910
Barbour3532
Talladega3177
Hale31421
Marengo31211
Dale2990
Wilcox2948
Sumter28512
Jackson2842
Clarke2776
Winston2633
Chilton2522
Blount2431
Monroe2392
Pickens2366
Marion23313
Conecuh2107
Randolph2099
Macon1999
Choctaw19512
Bibb1941
Greene1868
Perry1791
Henry1363
Crenshaw1253
Washington1117
Lawrence1100
Cherokee1027
Geneva830
Lamar781
Fayette711
Clay692
Coosa591
Cleburne381
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