Making the click-through worthwhile: Michael Cohen starts revealing the audiotapes of his conversation with Trump, leaving us wondering just what his long-term strategy is here; New Jersey senator Cory Booker pulls muscles reaching too far; and a sad tale of a celebrity demonstrates that fame doesn’t actually solve those personal troubles and doubts that keep us up in the middle of the night.
Michael Cohen Turns Against Trump — Are We Supposed to Like Him Now or Something?
We’re in pretty uncharted waters here, so who knows what the final ramifications of Michael Cohen’s secret taped conversations with Donald Trump will be. But having said that, doesn’t this make one feel a little sympathy for Trump? After all, your lawyer is supposed to be on your side, not accumulating blackmail or leverage material to use against you at some later date. Maybe this will get special counsel Robert Mueller off Cohen’s back, but it will be interesting to see what career options remain for Cohen when all of this is over. Trump and his allies will hate him as a turncoat, while Trump critics are unlikely to warmly embrace the man who cleaned up Trump’s ugliest legal messes for years.
Even if Cohen’s reputation wasn’t the public-relations equivalent of Chernobyl, no one would want to talk to him . . . knowing Cohen’s habit of surreptitiously recording conversations.
Cohen’s secret taping of his conversations with Trump was probably legal, because in New York you only need “one party to the conversation” to consent to taping to make it legal.
Of course, this assumes that both Trump and Cohen were in New York when the discussion occurred. This conversation was in September 2016, when Trump was campaigning around the country. Eleven states require all parties involved in a conversation or phone call to consent before the conversation can be recorded. If Trump was in California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, or Washington during these conversations . . . then technically Cohen violated that state’s law on wiretapping.
For what it’s worth, the American Bar Association prohibited secret recordings, ruling it “professional misconduct,” from 1974 to 2001. That year, it changed its opinions to argue that it could be acceptable in certain circumstances if the recording has a “valid purpose” and doesn’t violate the other party’s legal rights, but that a lawyer should not “falsely represent that a conversation is not being recorded.” Did Cohen ever tell Trump he wasn’t being recorded?
Do the tapes suggest that Trump knew about efforts to buy the rights to women alleging extramarital affairs with him, and prevent those allegations from being revealed to the public? Sure. But how many of us were buying Trump’s denials on that?
How many of us were buying Trump’s denials of the affairs?
Look, maybe this crew all deserves each other. But at some point, Trump will argue, “my own lawyer betrayed me in order to save his own skin,” and . . . he’ll largely be right.
Senator Cory Booker vs. the Forces of Evil
Do you remember John Kerry on the presidential stump? I think it was Rob Long who said Kerry was a comedic godsend, the embodiment of the comedic stock character of the smug snob, using terms like “would that it were” while trying to joke around with Jon Stewart. Whenever Kerry needed to come across as a “relatable guy,” he would try too hard, and call the Packers home “Lambert Field” or call the Neil Diamond song associated with his hometown Red Sox “Sweet Adeline.” He kept trying, really hard, to be something that he wasn’t, and it inevitably broke through in a cringe-inducing way.
I’m wondering if Cory Booker has a similar streak of overexertion and phoniness. We know from his mayoral record and early years in the Senate that Booker spent much of his career building a reputation as “Mister Bipartisan” and reaching across the aisle, trying to emulate the early Obama image of the post-partisan problem solver. But by 2016, the Democratic party was mad as heck about Trump, and Booker was left trying to reinvent himself as Shouty McAngryPants. He once worked with Sessions on legislation and praised him but then jumped to oppose his nomination as attorney general. He berates Trump administration officials when they testify before the Senate.
As our Jack Crowe reports, Booker keeps going one step beyond plausibility:
Flanked by a deacon and fellow Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Booker described the Kavanaugh confirmation battle as a “moral moment” that demands that all who oppose evil also oppose the constitutional originalists’ confirmation.
“I’m here to call on folk[s] to understand that in a moral moment there is no neutral. In a moral moment there is no bystanders,” Booker told the crowd. “You are either complicit in the evil, you are either contributing to the wrong, or you are fighting against it.”
The rising progressive star then suggested that opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation was tantamount to walking through the “valley of the shadow of death.”
“It doesn’t say that I sit in the valley of the shadow of death. It doesn’t say I’m sitting on the sidelines in the valley of the shadow of death. It says I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death. It says I am taking agency that I am going to make it through this crisis,” Booker said. “And so I am calling on everyone right now who understands what’s at stake, who understands who Kavanaugh is. My ancestors said ‘if someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.’ He has shown us who he is.”
Kavanaugh, a Christian father of two who regularly donates his time to serve food to the homeless, has been pilloried in the media for taking on credit-card debt to purchase season tickets to the Washington Nationals.
Anybody buying the argument that Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is . . . evil?
Fame Really Doesn’t Fix Any Problems, Does It?
Awful news about pop star Demi Lovato . . .
One can’t help but wonder if we’re witnessing a drawback to celebrities publicly discussing their struggles with addiction — a gesture no doubt taken with the best of intentions. The idea, presumably, is that ordinary, non-celebrity folk look at the rich and famous celebrity’s struggles and think, “Wow, they’re just like me. I’m not so different or uniquely troubled after all. If it could happen to them, there’s no shame in my struggle with this.” But how many non-celebrities hear about the rich and famous battling the bottle or pills, and think, “Wait, that person is famous and rich and successful and has all kinds of advantages that I don’t, and if they still relapsed . . . what chance do I have?” (Of course, a celebrity’s glamorous lifestyle may offer more temptations, opportunities for relapse, and enabling figures than the average person’s life.)
I came across this deeply sad anecdote about Lovato:
Lovato’s tolerance for artifice reached its breaking point at the 2016 Met Gala in New York, the annual celeb-packed, black-tie fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, presided over by Vogue’s Anna Wintour. “I had a terrible experience,” says Lovato, her voice rising in pitch for the only time during our conversation. “This one celebrity was a complete b**** and was miserable to be around. It was very cliquey. I remember being so uncomfortable that I wanted to drink.” She texted her manager, then went straight to a 10 p.m. Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
“I changed my clothes, but I still had my diamonds on — millions of dollars of diamonds on in an AA meeting. And I related more to the homeless people in that meeting who struggled with the same struggles that I deal with than the people at the Met Gala.”
This probably showcases how these problems aren’t rational, or at least aren’t easily understood by most of us. Lovato found the event “very clique-y”? She’s at the Met Gala, one of the most exclusive parties in America! Most of us would think that’s the ultimate validation, perhaps the most spectacular and high-profile venue to declare “you belong” in the world.
How could one other celebrity make Lovato feel so miserable? She’s a superstar — six albums, worldwide sales, critically acclaimed, touring around the world, her own line of skincare products, regular gigs on television shows such as The X Factor and Glee, a New York Times bestselling book . . . and she feels insecure and not accepted by others? What more could she want? What more could she need?
Shortly after Anthony Bourdain’s suicide, I came across this quote from actor Anthony Hopkins about fame:
He understands that we can all be terrible, and we can all be kind. Fame and power have nothing to do with it. I tell Hopkins something the singer Tony Bennett once said — “Life teaches you how to live it if you live long enough” — and he is delighted. “How extraordinary. What an amazing thing to say! You know, I meet young people, and they want to act and they want to be famous, and I tell them, when you get to the top of the tree, there’s nothing up there. Most of this is nonsense, most of this is a lie. Accept life as it is. Just be grateful to be alive.”
The odds are good that you’ll be the same person at the top of the tree that you were at the bottom — and that you’ll have the same inner problems there that you do here.
ADDENDUM: So this . . . really didn’t turn out to be “Iran Week” after all, huh?