I approach all news involving Trump and his cronies as TV drama so my mind naturally turned towards the most dramatic possible scenario to explain why this might have leaked. Here’s my best shot: Desperate to avoid prison and all out of leverage to get the feds to agree to further delay the start of his sentence, Cohen covertly approached Trump with an ultimatum. Either POTUS pardons him, for “old times’ sake” or whatever, or Cohen’s allies on the outside begin to empty his archives of the dirt he’s accumulated on Trump and his circle over the past decade. If Trump doesn’t comply, Cohen’s allies will begin leaking immediately after his departure for prison — first small stuff related to figures only marginally connected to Trumpworld like Jerry Falwell Jr, then gradually bigger stuff that hits closer to home, like the Trump family and finally POTUS himself.
Trump ignored Cohen’s threat so here’s the first tiny leak. Just to show POTUS that Cohen means business and that that pardon had better come soon.
Just a half-assed theory, of course, but it’s in keeping with how Cohen and his friends at the Enquirer seem to operate.
Months before evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr.’s game-changing presidential endorsement of Donald Trump in 2016, Falwell asked Trump fixer Michael Cohen for a personal favor, Cohen said in a recorded conversation reviewed by Reuters.
Falwell, president of Liberty University, one of the world’s largest Christian universities, said someone had come into possession of what Cohen described as racy “personal” photographs — the sort that would typically be kept “between husband and wife,” Cohen said in the taped conversation…
The Falwells wanted to keep “a bunch of photographs, personal photographs” from becoming public, Cohen told Arnold. “I actually have one of the photos,” he said, without going into specifics. “It’s terrible.”
Who would have recordings of Michael Cohen talking to confidants about business matters? Ah, right — Michael Cohen would. I wonder who has access to his library of tapes now, and what sort of instructions they might be under to release the contents.
Assuming Cohen was telling the truth, which is always a risky assumption, it’s weird that he would have kept one of Falwell’s “terrible” photographs. What use might Cohen conceivably have had for damaging personal information on a major evangelical leader whose endorsement would be highly coveted by his boss in a Republican presidential primary? Coincidentally, BuzzFeed reported last year that “Cohen was so confident in Falwell Jr.’s support [for the campaign] that he and Trump assured others, even before Trump announced his candidacy, that Falwell Jr. would issue an endorsement.” Fancy that. A bit more:
Even before his formal endorsement, Falwell Jr. had already spoken in flattering terms about Trump. He told students at Liberty University during a Trump visit in early January 2016, “In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others, as Jesus taught in the Great Commandment.”
It was Michael Cohen who reached out to Falwell Jr. to urge him to actually endorse Trump during that visit, according to the source familiar with Falwell’s decision. He reached out to Falwell Jr. again after the visit to remind him he had agreed to endorse Trump, the source wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News.
“Remind” is a charitable way to describe the tenor of that conversation, I’m guessing. It was several months before that, in 2015, that Cohen had allegedly handled the photo issue for Falwell, according to Reuters, so Falwell already would have been under Cohen’s thumb by the time the “reminder” was sent.
Reuters goes on to say that it “has no evidence that Falwell’s endorsement of Trump was related to Cohen’s involvement in the photo matter,” for what it’s worth. In fairness, given how many other evangelical leaders happily rolled over for Trump in 2016, it’s possible that Falwell really did prefer Trump on the merits, not because Trump’s tabloid-connected sleazebag lawyer had extortion material on him. There’s also no evidence that the photo matter described today by Reuters is related to the lawsuit BuzzFeed described in its story last year, although both involve business in Florida (Cohen flew down there to confront the blackmailer about the “racy” photos, says Reuters) and BuzzFeed’s story is heavy on “racy” insinuations albeit without any explicit accusations.
Maybe it’s all BS, though. “I find it hard to believe that Michael Cohen wouldn’t have told prosecutors about that time he and Trump blackmailed an evangelical leader for his endorsement,” says a Twitter pal. And you don’t need a cloak-and-dagger scenario to explain why the recording might have leaked to Reuters now. It may be as simple as the person who had the recording — possibly the person whom Cohen was speaking to — disliking Falwell and wanting to punish him for this much-noted tweet a few days ago jokingly suggesting that Trump deserved two more years on his term:
After the best week ever for @realDonaldTrump – no obstruction, no collusion, NYT admits @BarackObama did spy on his campaign, & the economy is soaring. I now support reparations-Trump should have 2 yrs added to his 1st term as pay back for time stolen by this corrupt failed coup
— Jerry Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) May 5, 2019
Exit question: Who could have guessed that, between Michael Cohen and Michael Avenatti, it’s not Cohen who’s facing prison time for extortion?