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 7:29 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.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 448268

Reported Deaths: 6013
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin931011480
Ramsey40016739
Dakota33072340
Anoka30999364
Washington20164228
Stearns17871187
St. Louis13690241
Scott1195496
Wright11614104
Olmsted1048475
Sherburne821365
Carver694836
Clay653280
Rice606868
Kandiyohi554371
Blue Earth541033
Crow Wing482774
Otter Tail457167
Chisago452732
Benton420186
Winona389646
Douglas374166
Nobles370846
Mower365529
Goodhue347958
Polk328658
McLeod325345
Morrison311744
Beltrami310347
Lyon302236
Becker284939
Itasca284543
Isanti282841
Carlton280043
Steele27379
Pine266713
Freeborn245321
Todd231730
Nicollet224636
Brown215134
Mille Lacs214246
Le Sueur210015
Cass207623
Meeker199733
Waseca189316
Wabasha17083
Martin170026
Roseau165416
Hubbard149338
Redwood139727
Renville137539
Houston135913
Dodge13474
Chippewa131332
Cottonwood127218
Fillmore12355
Wadena120116
Rock110212
Sibley10857
Aitkin108433
Watonwan10668
Faribault105916
Pennington99215
Kanabec97818
Pipestone94423
Yellow Medicine93714
Murray8815
Jackson85610
Swift83418
Pope7385
Marshall70215
Stevens7018
Clearwater68514
Lac qui Parle65716
Lake63715
Wilkin6259
Koochiching59610
Lincoln4841
Big Stone4573
Unassigned43768
Grant4298
Norman4248
Mahnomen4107
Kittson37219
Red Lake3174
Traverse2503
Lake of the Woods1951
Cook1140

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 305606

Reported Deaths: 4278
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk45754449
Linn17795275
Scott15444163
Black Hawk13773236
Woodbury13016175
Johnson1211749
Dubuque11387150
Pottawattamie8992112
Dallas888671
Story869434
Webster469771
Cerro Gordo466768
Sioux455157
Clinton450361
Warren443938
Marshall427761
Buena Vista393429
Muscatine390477
Des Moines381841
Plymouth350368
Wapello344198
Jasper321959
Lee317130
Marion304952
Jones271349
Henry264330
Carroll255434
Bremer245048
Crawford231022
Boone218417
Washington217632
Benton209444
Mahaska193136
Jackson192031
Tama187757
Dickinson186026
Delaware173736
Kossuth173644
Clay168820
Wright164824
Fayette162322
Hamilton160029
Buchanan159923
Winneshiek155719
Harrison155162
Hardin154729
Cedar153219
Clayton151448
Butler148224
Page144715
Floyd139636
Cherokee139027
Mills136416
Lyon135332
Poweshiek132724
Hancock130224
Allamakee127928
Iowa125422
Calhoun12279
Grundy121226
Jefferson120724
Madison12039
Winnebago119429
Mitchell116234
Louisa115030
Cass113341
Chickasaw111612
Sac111215
Emmet110831
Appanoose110538
Union108822
Humboldt105519
Guthrie103024
Shelby102926
Franklin102418
Unassigned9310
Palo Alto9079
Montgomery85622
Keokuk85026
Howard84219
Monroe81218
Clarke7957
Pocahontas77611
Ida74630
Greene6927
Davis69121
Adair68820
Lucas6508
Monona64016
Osceola6409
Worth6113
Taylor5949
Fremont5126
Van Buren49712
Decatur4894
Ringgold4389
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Adams2963
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