With the release of Michael Cohen's secret recording of Donald Trump, a huge mucky rock was overturned. We can hear then-presidential candidate Trump saying "pay with cash," raising the question of whether he was referring to buying the silence of former Playboy model Karen McDougal, with whom he allegedly had an affair shortly after his wife, Melania Trump, gave birth to their son.
To be fair, the audio is muddled, so it's not clear exactly what Trump is talking about.
But in the recording, which Cohen's lawyer gave to CNN, when Trump raises the notion of using "cash," Cohen, his attorney, says, "No, no, no, no." Big cash payments signal shady business and Cohen, who was well adapted to Trump's environment of intrigue and deception, was obviously trying to save the boss from himself.
The word "cash" may reveal Trump's intent to keep secret a scheme that was designed to protect him from a shameful truth -- his betrayal of his wife -- and might also violate election laws that require every campaign-related expenditure be made public.
In response to the released recording, Trump's legal team disputed what was being said and released their own transcript of the tape. His legal team said Trump said "do not use cash...check."
Instead of debating about whether he meant "cash" or "check," the President and his team should be worried about the names of his confidants mentioned on the tape and whether they will also turn on him.
True to form, the President is also trying to change the subject, using Twitter to say, "What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So sad! Is this a first, never heard of it before? Why was the tape so abruptly terminated (cut) while I was presumably saying positive things?..."
What would be the "positive things" Trump could say about the scheme? To presume that something reasonable was said is to ignore the fetid world of manipulation Trump created for himself and the nature of the people who inhabit it.
Trump was attended by a coterie of fixers and enablers who thrived by playing the roles he gave them, often in violation of the norms that others observe.
Beneath Cohen's overturned rock, we heard the name David. Given what we know about the National Enquirer's payment of $150,000 to McDougal, it is reasonable to believe this is American Media Inc. chief executive David Pecker, the tabloid's publisher. Pecker, who has said in court filings that the decision to buy and bury McDougal's story was his First Amendment Right, defiles the journalism profession.
Real journalists, who are devoted to giving the public every bit of reliable information they can deliver, do not pay for the rights to a story to keep it secret. Although he poses as a news publisher, Pecker's corrupt practices are intended to distort reality, not reveal it. A former AMI senior editor told The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow, "We never printed a word about Trump without his approval." The Wall Street Journal reported that Pecker has been subpoenaed to testify in a criminal probe of Cohen's payoff activities. AMI has not confirmed the report.
In the recording, Cohen also mentioned Allen Weisselberg. On the tape, Cohen said Weisselberg advised him on "how to set the whole thing up with funding." First employed by Trump's father, Fred Trump, Weisselberg has long served as chief financial officer of the entire Trump Organization. He is one of the few people who knows more about Trump's activities than Cohen. He even helped manage the Trump Foundation that is now under investigation by the New York attorney general. Weisselberg has not made a comment, but Alan Futerfas, a lawyer from the Trump Organization, told CNN, "I don't even know what Michael Cohen would have said to Allen Weisselberg because all Allen does is bookkeeping and process requests for transactions that are given to him."
Although he has long served one of the most controversial businessmen in America, Weisselberg had previously managed to avoid the light of publicity. However, the tape mentions his name in one of the murkiest episodes in Trump's life. Weisselberg could be of great interest to the New York federal prosecutors who are looking into Cohen's activities, and to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is trying to get to the bottom of Russia's interference with the 2016 election and Trump's relationships with various Russians.
But the critical muck-dweller in this scheme was, of course, Donald Trump himself. The allegation of the affair is entirely consistent with the man heard uttering the words "grab 'em by the pussy" in the infamous tape recorded by the "Access Hollywood" TV show, and who is the subject of sexual harassment claims made by more than a dozen women.
This is the same Trump who allegedly paid to keep secret an alleged sexual encounter with porn star Stormy Daniels.
Altogether, the swampy goings-on referenced in Cohen's recording suggest that people who helped Trump in the past -- Cohen, Pecker and Weisselberg, to name just three -- pose a danger to him now. They, too, could start overturning rocks, including those that hide the truth about Trump's finances.
The President, who relied on this cadre of fixers and enablers in the past, has a new one in his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who is leading the counterattack. The former mayor of New York went on TV to tell us to ignore what we hear on the recording. Unfortunately for Trump, Giuliani is not a perfect fit in the role he now occupies. He can't help saying things like, "I've listened to lots of Mafia tapes. I've dealt with much worse tapes than this."
Sharing thoughts about organized crime as you address the problems of your client, who is President of the United States, doesn't help.
Surely Trump misses the good old days when he could turn to Michael Cohen to fix things for him. But Cohen has abandoned the slimy confines where he once dwelled and discovered he can function in the light. Trump should fear that others will be joining Cohen there.