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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: 93364

Reported Deaths: 2810
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds6974155
DeSoto541155
Harrison373272
Jackson338867
Madison320886
Rankin319075
Lee260667
Jones242078
Forrest239070
Washington217971
Lafayette208439
Lauderdale1999124
Bolivar179465
Oktibbeha175050
Lamar163134
Neshoba1536103
Panola144027
Sunflower141744
Lowndes139957
Warren138150
Leflore136980
Pontotoc123416
Pike121248
Monroe118865
Scott116425
Copiah116233
Coahoma112327
Holmes109258
Marshall107615
Lincoln106753
Grenada106135
Yazoo103829
Simpson101143
Union97824
Tate95137
Leake93937
Adams91936
Wayne87721
Pearl River86550
Marion84133
Prentiss81117
Covington80522
Alcorn77311
Itawamba76221
Newton75723
Tallahatchie75418
George74913
Winston72419
Tishomingo65837
Chickasaw65524
Tippah64216
Attala64125
Walthall59325
Clay57817
Hancock56121
Jasper55415
Noxubee54315
Clarke53539
Smith52314
Calhoun50612
Tunica47913
Montgomery45520
Claiborne45216
Lawrence42512
Yalobusha41714
Perry40718
Quitman3745
Humphreys37315
Stone35511
Greene34517
Webster33113
Jefferson Davis32511
Carroll31212
Amite31110
Wilkinson30217
Kemper28615
Sharkey26312
Jefferson2429
Benton2191
Franklin1893
Choctaw1795
Issaquena1033
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 128818

Reported Deaths: 2284
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19015337
Mobile13066289
Montgomery8674173
Madison758375
Tuscaloosa7240114
Lee571359
Shelby568450
Baldwin506149
Marshall383543
Etowah335547
Calhoun333839
Morgan319726
Houston270822
Elmore254947
DeKalb235519
St. Clair223435
Walker222680
Talladega206926
Limestone199519
Cullman184517
Dallas174826
Franklin174328
Russell17132
Autauga169024
Lauderdale164633
Colbert160626
Escambia156225
Blount155114
Jackson150611
Chilton148527
Dale133043
Covington130927
Coffee12778
Pike11559
Tallapoosa113683
Chambers113042
Clarke104917
Marion94228
Butler90938
Barbour8357
Winston70912
Marengo69919
Lowndes64827
Pickens63514
Bibb63210
Hale61528
Randolph60812
Bullock58714
Lawrence58520
Monroe5758
Geneva5724
Cherokee56516
Washington54613
Clay5427
Perry5376
Wilcox53111
Conecuh52311
Crenshaw52331
Macon47720
Henry4724
Fayette4219
Sumter41819
Lamar3462
Choctaw34512
Cleburne3236
Greene30015
Coosa1643
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