American cable media lack the intellectual depth or institutional courage to tackle the machinations of Donald Trump and Company. The released audio-taped chat between then-candidate Trump and his former Fixer Michael Cohen is a prime example of this media malfeasance.
Nearly every news channel immediately declared that the conversation is about former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Only The Guardian demurred, calling her the “apparent” subject.
Next, they circled around the reference to David, and decided the name referred to David Pecker, CEO of AMI and the man who controls the National Enquirer.
From there, the talking heads asserted that the hullabaloo was about cash or credit.
Call me oppositional but I disagree with the media echo chamber.
Cash or Credit or Who Cares?
This focus on cash or credit does not make sense except in tonal interpretation. As some have pointed out, making cash payments is a mafioso tradition, and so indicts Trump-Cohen because it sounds like a mob payoff. But there is nothing inherently criminal here. And, when it comes to campaign finance violations, it does not really matter whether hush money is paid via greenbacks or is financed. The violation has to do with unreported funds, not the form or its similarity to the mob. These are nothing more than easy talking points for the media. They transfer to exciting sound bites.
David Pecker or David the Pecker?
There is no substitute for the actual words in this short conversation. Paying attention to what is said yields the answer.
The tape is about: “all of that info regarding our friend David.”
Cohen repeats this twice. He introduces the matter with the quote above. A few sentences later, Cohen emphasizes the multiplicity: “it’s all the stuff.” It is clear that he references more than one matter, that this is not limited to a single individual (McDougal) or one NDA. There is a lot of stuff. And it is all related to “our friend David.”
David refers to David Dennison, the pseudonym adopted for purposes of the Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) crafted by Cohen. And David Dennison is Donald Trump.
Again, looking at the literal words matters. Keep in mind that Trump is a simple-minded guy. Cohen knows not to confuse him. So the quick conversation may contain the slightest bit of code but it is understandable to Trump. He knows that he is David Dennison. He knows that Cohen cleans up his messes, his juvenile nyphomania. And Trump knows his opponent, Hillary Clinton, is doing deep dives into his red-letter past.
Here is the pertinent excerpt of the tape. My transcription may differ slightly from others, and I have bold-faced remarks that are significant.
COHEN: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that I’m going to do that right away. I’ve actually come up with…
TRUMP: (slightly illegible) Give it to me.
COHEN: I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up, uhm with funding…
TRUMP: So what are we going to pay?
COHEN: Yes. And uhm, it’s all the stuff. Because you never know where that company, you never know where he’s going to be…
TRUMP: (illegible then) He gets hit by a truck…
COHEN: Correct. So I’m, I’m all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing, which will be…
TRUMP: What financing?
COHEN: We’ll have to pay, so…
TRUMP: Pay with cash.
COHEN: NO. No, no, no. I got, no…
THIRD PERSON: Hey Donald. How are you?
END OF TAPE
Timing Is Everything
This conversation took place in September 2016.
Michael Cohen knew in August 2016 that Karen McDougal had signed a hush contract with AMI (parent company of the National Enquirer). He knew the details of the agreement because her attorney, Keith Davidson, got on the phone and reported to Cohen after she signed their agreement. All this information is revealed in McDougal‘s lawsuit against AMI. They include a payoff in the amount of $150,000 by Trump’s good buddy, David Pecker in a cash-and-kill scheme.
Two items are important:
1) The AMI agreement with McDougal took place at least a month before Cohen’s chat with Trump, and
2) as has been determined, neither Cohen nor Trump ever paid McDougal the $150,000. AMI made the payment to McDougal in August 2016, and was the subject of a lawsuit as a result.
Bottom line: at the time of the Trump-Cohen conversation, Karen McDougal had already been paid by AMI and effectively silenced. McDougal was not a pressing issue when the Trump-Cohen chat occurred.
So what did the media get wrong? What was this brief chat all about? Who needs hush money? And what is all this stuff that the Fixer plans to fix?