Ex-Enquirer exec: Cohen issue was bait and switch

Stu Zakim, former senior vice president for corporate communications at American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, says the tabloid's critical coverage of Michael Cohen was a bait-and-switch tactic by David Pecker, the CEO of American Media and a longtime friend of President Trump.

Posted: May 2, 2018 9:26 PM
Updated: May 2, 2018 9:26 PM

Trump lawyer / fixer / organizer of Playboy model (alleged) mistress payoffs Michael Cohen graces the cover of the National Enquirer this week, pictured looking hangdog and droopy under the headline "PAYOFFS & THREATS EXPOSED: TRUMP FIXER'S SECRETS & LIES!"

It's a particularly uncomfortable display, given that the Enquirer is owned by a close Trump pal, David Pecker, who rarely publishes anything negative about Trump and his cohort, and engages in egregious "catch and kill" practices -- that is shielding the President by paying for exclusive rights to troublesome stories the paper never runs. (After a New Yorker article on "catch and kill," the company said in a statement that the suggestion "that AMI engages in any practice that would allow it to hold influence over the President of the United States is laughable.")

The Enquirer cover sends a signal that Cohen, whose office and home were recently raided by federal investigators, is out of the President's good graces.

That's bad news for Cohen, a faithful Trump lackey despite the President's general disrespect and mockery of him. Cohen is, to put it mildly, not a smart man, and not a particularly good lawyer. It seems likely that he breached the basic ethics and rules of his profession (and that he isn't even clear on what those ethics and rules might be); it's very possible he has committed serious crimes and could face jail time.

It also couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy. Cohen is just one of the many hangers-on who make shady careers out of fastening, remora-like, to marginally wealthier crooks and dissemblers.

That he and the rest of the villainous segment of the Trump team made it to the White House is a great stain on our nation, and they have predictably exploited it as a business opportunity. And then have been (predictably) stunned by the level of examination they have drawn.

What they apparently haven't learned is how to behave themselves, which is why a Trump ally is now using his publication to smear Cohen. Strategically, the phone call Trump reportedly made to Cohen after the federal raid (to "check in" according to two people briefed on the call, says The New York Times) appears to have been flailing and idiotic.

If, in fact, the President followed on this by taking any hand in the conspiracy-minded supermarket tabloid trashing a suddenly inconvenient man, it would be a stunning signal of how low Trump has taken the dignity of his office.

Even more incredible would be the cluelessness of such an action: consider that Cohen is one of the people who could hurt the President the worst.

Indeed, the President seemed to consider it for a moment -- what else was the recent pardon of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby about, if not to signal to Trump's friends and implicated associates that they're OK as long as he's in charge? In any case, he appears to have either forgotten or disregarded this consideration in favor of some other shiny object that would satisfy his yen for revenge. Enter the Enquirer.

Cohen may yet put his nearly canine loyalty to Trump ahead of his own self-interest and refuse to give up what he knows (one imagines it's a whole lot). But by now, he should be well aware that just about any of the soulless mongrels who have fetched for Trump would turn on any of the others in a second -- the volume of backstabbing and self-aggrandizing leaking coming out of the Trump White House is evidence of that.

Cohen didn't lay down with the dogs here; he's long been one of them. The question now is whether he's at least sufficiently motivated by basic self-preservation -- and the weight of an investigation bearing down -- to break from the pack.

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