BY: TANNER KENNEY
The embattled former personal attorney for President Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, released a recording of a portion of a meeting between the two that took place in September 2016. The recording, which was released yesterday, through his personal attorney, Lanny Davis, to CNN’s Chris Cuomo comes at a time when the relationship between President Trump and Michael Cohen grows more estranged. The audio has Cohen and Trump discussing the necessity for and potential structure of payments to David J. Pecker, Chairman and CEO of American Media, Inc., which owns and publishes the National Enquirer, which, at the time, had the rights to a story chronicling President Trump’s relationship with former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
The tape in-question contains an audio recording between Cohen and Trump discussing how the two, along with Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, would form a shell company in Delaware – similar to that in the Daniels case. The company’s sole purpose was to handle the financial aspects of an NDA protecting any public recounting of an affair between Trump and Karen McDougal to prevent either the Trump Campaign and Organization from being named in public filings.
The purpose of these payments was to secure information through non-disclosure agreements (NDA) in order to prevent the public release of damaging personal information such as extramarital affairs about Trump prior to Election Day. As such, this discussion and any others like it may be viewed as conspiratorial potentially violating campaign finance laws. This comes at the heels of the financial agreement between President Trump and Michael Cohen and adult film actress Stormy Daniels (real name Stephany Clifford) and her former attorney, Keith Davidson, who is currently under investigation for his role in the negotiation process.
Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing Daniels in the defamation lawsuit against both Trump and Cohen, who assert she is the one who violated the NDA, claims his client accepted payment in lieu of going to the press about their affair and was not the only one to do so. The tape released last night is reportedly one of at least twelve recordings obtained by the FBI during its investigation of Cohen’s business, campaign, and legal practices.
Almost immediately, and nearly simultaneously, the White House released its own recounting of the conversation in the form of a highly-contested transcript whilst President Trump’s legal counsel, Rudy Giuliani, released a statement arguing that the recording serves as “exculpatory evidence” as well as the fact that voices heard on this tape are unintelligible, but clear enough to claim that it was Michael Cohen saying the word “cash[.]”
Cohen is currently in legal hot water and for a bevy of reasons, primarily for his role in a taxi-based tax evasion scheme. Given Trump’s refusal to support Cohen, moving forward, Avenatti has suggested that Cohen settle his portion of the plaintiff’s complaint, publicly decline a presidential pardon, and cooperate with any and all ongoing investigations he may be able to support. Cohen also faces increased pressure from his own prosecutors since evidence was seized following the search of his office, home, and hotel room for tax evasion. It, now, is increasingly more likely that Cohen will become a witness for the federal government in Special Counsel Robert Mueller III’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.
Lastly, this tape – and the potential release of the 11 additional recordings made by Cohen– further call into question the Trump Administration’s ability to parse right from wrong, ethical from unethical, legal from illegal, and beyond. This has been recently evidenced by the praise given to Putin by Trump and vice versa being omitted from the White House transcript as well as the official video recap.
The public release of the tape comes amid growing calls from pundits, legal observers, historians, and more for increased transparency throughout the Trump Administration, which has been chastised for obfuscating or denying the truth on numerous occasions since Inauguration Day. More recently, President Trump was criticized from all sides of the political spectrum for his performance during a one-on-one summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and its subsequent press conference in Helsinki, Finland. As more of the recordings become public, it will necessitate further investigations from all sides into whether or not the dealings evidenced in the tapes violated campaign finance laws.
Tanner Kenney is an energy and media professional with a background in journalism and received his M.S. in Global Affairs, Environment & Energy Policy from NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. Recently, Tanner has focused on the advocacy of sustainable development through renewable energy technologies, transportation efficiency, and inclusive public policy.
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