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.

Cases: 256827

Reported Deaths: 5638
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17257180
Hinds16331322
Harrison13567194
Rankin10804212
Jackson10453184
Lee8864141
Madison8314164
Jones6434112
Forrest6009120
Lauderdale5902186
Lowndes5405116
Lafayette499193
Lamar488565
Washington4803124
Bolivar3997109
Oktibbeha395381
Panola372379
Pontotoc367853
Monroe3558105
Warren354898
Union345960
Marshall344066
Neshoba3396152
Pearl River3301100
Leflore3041107
Lincoln298085
Sunflower286671
Hancock274459
Tate273162
Alcorn265453
Itawamba263759
Pike263778
Scott248046
Yazoo247056
Prentiss246552
Tippah243050
Copiah242749
Coahoma241054
Simpson236467
Leake231765
Grenada219471
Covington214672
Marion213073
Adams207070
Wayne202932
Winston201666
George199839
Attala194259
Newton193444
Tishomingo189361
Chickasaw185044
Jasper172736
Holmes168767
Clay159833
Stone144721
Tallahatchie141934
Clarke139862
Calhoun136521
Smith121424
Yalobusha117834
Walthall112336
Noxubee110822
Greene110429
Montgomery109834
Carroll104821
Lawrence102917
Perry102631
Amite98426
Webster92824
Tunica87321
Claiborne86625
Jefferson Davis85326
Humphreys83124
Benton82023
Kemper77620
Quitman6968
Franklin66715
Choctaw60913
Wilkinson58725
Jefferson54919
Sharkey43117
Issaquena1596
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 426543

Reported Deaths: 6126
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson62752920
Mobile30551554
Madison27303186
Tuscaloosa20835267
Montgomery19192305
Shelby18693114
Baldwin16513183
Lee12603101
Morgan12321113
Etowah11805168
Calhoun11206200
Marshall10236107
Houston8681148
Cullman8094105
Limestone807474
Elmore7923101
DeKalb771597
Lauderdale763183
St. Clair7599120
Talladega6224108
Walker5930174
Jackson583741
Colbert535473
Blount532083
Autauga522755
Coffee446256
Dale399781
Franklin368148
Chilton337865
Russell335910
Covington330168
Escambia321342
Dallas305196
Chambers288669
Clarke283133
Tallapoosa2630107
Pike251329
Marion247350
Lawrence245247
Winston229035
Bibb217047
Geneva203335
Marengo200829
Pickens196931
Hale177442
Barbour173836
Fayette171226
Butler170758
Cherokee160930
Henry155021
Monroe147317
Randolph141535
Washington138326
Clay127045
Crenshaw120244
Cleburne118423
Lamar118419
Macon116835
Lowndes111535
Wilcox103621
Bullock99728
Perry98219
Conecuh95120
Sumter89526
Greene76223
Coosa60515
Choctaw51524
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