“What kind of lawyer would tape a client?” President Donald Trump asked in a huffy tweet Wednesday, the morning after CNN obtained a recording of one of his conversations with his embattled former attorney, Michael Cohen.
That’s a question with an easy answer: The kind of lawyer who would thrive as Donald Trump’s longtime fixer. The kind Trump would turn to in the closing weeks of a presidential election, when he needed to buy the silence of a former Playboy model who was claiming that she and Trump had had an extramarital affair. The kind who would fit the description that Trump bestows on the people he finds most impressive, or at least the most useful: “a killer.”
Trump was well aware that Cohen made a regular practice of surreptitiously recording his business and political conversations. In fact, as The Post reported in April, the lawyer often played those tapes for Trump. “It was his standard practice to do it,” one associate said.
Now, Cohen has a more urgent concern than protecting his former client. He is under federal investigation for possible bank fraud and election law violations, and only he - and the FBI - know what is in those reams of records seized from his office in an April raid.
Cohen’s own lawyers include Lanny Davis, a veteran of the Clinton White House’s famed damage-control operation, whose own mantra has been: “Tell it early, tell it all, tell it yourself.” During the campaign finance scandals of the mid-1990s, Davis engineered the public release of White House Communications Agency videos showing Bill Clinton greeting major campaign contributors in the Oval Office, the Map Room and other parts of the White House. Republicans on Capitol Hill did not even know that such recordings existed. Davis’s bet, which turned out to be right, was that hyper-transparency would end up working in the president’s favor.
Perhaps for Trump what stings is being on the receiving end of one of his own favorite tactics. As a means of intimidation, the president has long believed in the power of surreptitious recordings - and sometimes, just the threat of them:
“James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!,” Treump tweeted on May 12, 2017.
What has become evident now is that, unlike his former client, Michael Cohen is not bluffing.