Saturday, July 21, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He pretended to be surprised that his "fixer" might have done something unethical.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported on a tape recording made by Trump's longtime "fixer" Michael Cohen, in which Cohen and Trump discuss paying hush money related to Trump's affair with Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Today, Trump weighed in on Twitter: "Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) - almost unheard of. Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client - totally unheard of & perhaps illegal."

Trump is wrong about the law: it was not illegal for Cohen to record Trump in New York (or 37 other states), where the law allows people to make recordings of conversations they are a part of. Trump is also lying when he says it is "inconceivable" that the FBI would conduct a raid like the one at Cohen's office. In reality, law enforcement acts to protect evidence it thinks a suspected criminal will destroy regardless of the time of day, or who the target's business partners might be.

As an ethical matter, it is debatable whether an attorney should make such recordings--but then, whether Trump is willing to admit that Cohen was ever his lawyer changes frequently according to what is politically convenient. (As recently as May, Rudy Giuliani couldn't even say for sure whether Cohen was still doing legal work for Trump.)

Trump's tweets leave out one important piece of the context, though: it is very likely that Trump himself leaked this particular tape. Cohen's team was apparently caught by surprise, and had no public response until the end of the day. But Trump's favorite "TV lawyer" Rudy Giuliani was ready to do media appearances declaring that the tape somehow exonerated Trump, and Trump's legal team had waived their attorney-client privilege with respect to this particular tape. 

For the past few months, Trump has rapidly cycled between abusing Cohen in the press and speaking warmly of him--which is not much of a change from their previous relationship. Given that Cohen is now very likely to cooperate with federal authorities, Trump seems to have decided that a pre-emptive attack on his former "fixer" is his best option.

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents shouldn't attack their own government for executing lawful search warrants.
  • There are probably more important things for a president to be doing than trying to attack the credibility of a future witness against him.
  • Trump's sexual affairs are his own business, but a president who needs to pay off multiple women to keep quiet about them is vulnerable to blackmail.