When Cohen saw this, it must have felt like finding a dead fish on his doorstep.
Michael Cohen makes the National Enquirer pic.twitter.com/Bsg3Z1iUZS
— Jack Shafer (@jackshafer) April 28, 2018
Trump is buddy-buddy with David Pecker, the head of the Enquirer’s parent company, AMI, as you probably know after two years of reports about it. Their relationship’s under the microscope lately because of the “catch and kill” suspicions surrounding the Karen McDougal and Dino Sajudin stories. In both cases, AMI cut big checks to people who said they had dirt on candidate Trump and in both cases the stories never made it to print. In Sajudin’s case, the Enquirer claimed that his story simply didn’t check out — although that raises the question of why they paid top dollar for it and why, if Ronan Farrow’s sources are to be believed, they seemed highly unmotivated to investigate his claim. McDougal’s account of an affair with Trump seems much more credible but the paper never went to press with that either. Only this month, under intense media scrutiny, did AMI finally cut her loose from their “catch and kill” arrangement.
Burying stories that Trump might want buried is only one apparent service AMI performs for him. They run relentlessly flattering stories about him (which puts them squarely in the mainstream of conservative media, admittedly) and have also dropped well-timed hit pieces on his enemies. It was the Enquirer that ran the half-assed “expose” on Ted Cruz during the 2016 primaries accusing him of serial adultery and then followed up with the infamous story, later cited by Trump himself, that tried to link Cruz’s father to Lee Harvey Oswald. Last year Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski claimed that “top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked.”
That’s what makes the new attack on Cohen interesting. If it’s the case that POTUS is laundering smears of his political enemies through the Enquirer, the fact that Cohen is a target this week would seem to suggest that he’s now in the “enemy” category. USA Today summarizes the Enquirer piece on him:
While the two-page article inside is mostly a re-hash of events swirling around Cohen, and frequently blurs them as well, it adds enough tantalizing extras to show some emerging daylight between Trump and Cohen, his self-proclaimed “fixer.”
It notes Cohen’s role as Trump’s go-to guy in the past, and adds: “But now, Cohen, 51, is under the spotlight, as scandals swirl around his boss, and some are questioning Cohen’s role, alleging blackmail, threats, hush-money payoffs — and even collusion with Russia.”…
Regarding the infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump is caught on a live mic making disparaging remarks about women, the article says, in one eyebrow-lifter, “Now, sources speculate Cohen led an effort to suppress the release of the video — and any related NBC story.” It does not elaborate.
I can think of two reasons why AMI would begin to turn on Cohen. The obvious one was articulated yesterday by Stormy Daniels’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti. If Trump is soon going to be in the position of having to deny accusations against him made by Michael Cohen, it’s time to start tearing down Cohen’s credibility.
"Mr. Trump realizes he's in a lot of trouble, and he's in panic mode," says Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti, as the National Enquirer takes on Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen https://t.co/72toNV1y3h
— CNN (@CNN) April 30, 2018
The other reason: It’s not just Trump who’s in the hot seat with the feds sifting through Cohen’s seized files. AMI is too. “Since the early stages of his campaign in 2015, Mr. Trump, his lawyer Michael D. Cohen and Mr. Pecker have strategized about protecting him and lashing out at his political enemies,” the Times claimed two weeks ago. (“In one early interaction, Mr. Cohen helped arrange an ultimately abandoned attempt to buy and bury a potentially damaging photograph of Mr. Trump at an event with a topless woman…”) Conceivably, AMI’s payments to McDougal and Sajudin could be characterized as unreported campaign contributions if they were made at Trump’s/Cohen’s behest and there was never any intent by the Enquirer to publish stories about them. Maybe AMI’s rushing to prove its independence from Cohen knowing that the heat is on at the U.S. Attorney’s office.
If you missed it last week, read this Bloomberg story about the likelihood that Cohen will flip on Trump. In the end, they argue, it could be a straightforward matter of money. Cohen is a bigwig at the Trump Organization but there’s reason to believe he might not have the dough to pay lawyers to wage an extended legal fight. If he’s outgunned, he may have no choice but to sue for peace. On the other hand, I don’t buy the analyses making the rounds in the media that because Trump has been disrespectful towards Cohen in the past, that makes it more likely that Cohen will flip on him. Psychologically, I think it makes it less likely. A man who’s forever trying and failing to win his superior’s respect might regard an invitation from prosecutors to rat him out as the ultimate test of mettle. Ratting out Trump is exactly what Trump would expect a desperate schlub like Cohen to do. Refusing to rat him out will prove once and for all what an exceptional deputy he is. We’ll see.