Not since Donald Trump salted the New York tabloids in the 1980s and ’90s with his signature formula of leaks, lies and lunacy has our daily news diet tasted so vividly of scandal. The New York Daily News may be near death and the New York Post not far behind, but thanks to the yellow sensibilities of MSNBC, CNN and the Fox News Channel, we get to drink deeply every night from the Trump scandal sewer!
You’ve got secret tape recordings airing on television of Trump and his former attorney Michael Cohen talking about how to structure a payoff to one of Trump’s paramours—a Playboy model—that will buy her silence. You’ve got someone leaking to CNN the shocking news that Trump knew all along about the meeting between Russians peddling Hillary dirt and his son and son-in-law and campaign chairman, and is prepared to tell just that to special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III. You’ve got one of the president’s current attorneys, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, barnstorming the news channels with all the vigor of a publicity agent to combat the tabloidesque revelations and using the TV forum to denounce Cohen as an “incredible liar“—even though he called Cohen “an honest, honorable lawyer” in May.
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And we haven’t even gotten to porn actress Stormy Daniels, paid by Trump to keep their affair secret, or to the fact that the National Enquirer—the tabloid that paid off Trump’s Playboy paramour—gave Cohen pre-publication peeks at stories about Trump; or the secret $1.6 million payout of hush money by a major Trump supporter to yet another Playboy model; or the sexed-up Russian agent Maria Butina, who worked the peripheries of the conservation establishment—the NRA, a Rockefeller heir, the inauguration, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.)—seeking political influence.
Nor have we discussed the new allegations from Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, a tabloid cover boy if ever there was one, who claimed on Friday to represent three (three!) additional women who say they had sex with Trump and were paid hush money before the 2016 election. Chewing the landscape like a tabloid monster, Avenatti demanded that Cohen release the information about these affairs and payouts.
You want more? Early this month, Cohen hired accomplished publicity hound Lanny Davis to run interference for him. Davis distinguished himself—if that’s the word—defending the Clintons during their tabloid sex scandal in the 1990s, running his mouth like a high-speed press. In classic tabloid style, Davis immediately grappled his way into a wrestler’s tie-up with Giuliani and Trump, tweeting, “Trump/Giuliani next to the word ‘truth’ = oxymoron.” If Davis handles the news media right, the Cohen and Trump break-up will make uglier tabloid news than the Ivana-Donald split.
Tawdry, tasteless and frequently smutty, the Trump meta-scandal has evolved into a shrieking tabloid battle between the president and his foes. In the old days, Trump manipulated the New York tabloids with ease. He would do it directly, phoning in boasts and lies to reporters about his businesses triumphs and love affairs. Or he would delegate those duties to his pseudonymous spokesman, “John Barron.” Trump still likes to manage his image tabloid-style, only today he does it with public tweets and a sidecar of video comments, leaving the heaviest work of rebuttal to surrogates like Giuliani.
Late this week, Giuliani demonstrated his say-anything mettle on Chris Cuomo’s CNN show, butchering Cohen’s reputation in every breath. Cohen has a history of fooling people, Giuliani said, recording people without telling them, “breaking faith” with people who trust him. Nothing Cohen says about Trump knowing about the Russia meeting should be believed, Giuliani insisted, because being in the clutches of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, he’s “got a tremendous motive to lie now.”
What do you mean “now,” Rudy? Cohen exercised his tremendous motives to lie back then, when he denied that Trump had ever had sex with Daniels!
As the tabloid war between Cohen-Davis and Trump-Giuliani escalates, the president’s ex-fixer will hold the advantage for several reasons. With his reputation already in ruins, Cohen has nothing lose from Giuliani’s attacks and everything to gain by pleasing the SDNY; he also has more offensive weapons at his immediate disposal—tapes, documents and recollections—than does Giuliani, and, should he go public with them, Giuliani will be forced to play defense; as a former prosecutor, Giuliani is unfamiliar with playing defense; and Giuliani’s client is one of the best-documented liars on the planet. Why should anybody believe anything a liar’s lawyer says in his defense?
You’d think Giuliani, having studied tabloid politics while serving as U.S. attorney and later New York City mayor, would be better at promoting his client. It would make better tabloid sense for Trump to dump Giuliani and officially hire Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has worked to shield him from his accusers in his many appearances on TV over the past year.
For someone who was practically reared on tabloid wars, Trump has been surprisingly flat-footed thus far. Perhaps, in the guise of his own former lawyer, he’s finally met his match.
Send titillation and sensation by the yellow bucketful to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts would like to hire Lanny Davis only for the pleasure of firing him. My Twitter feed says Alan Dershowitz interrupts too much. My RSS feed became famous for turning the phrase, “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”