Michael Cohen may ultimately register just a few days of buzz among a number of Donald Trump-related tell alls this month, but his claims give new details on the level of coordination between Trump and favored media outlets.
Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney who is currently serving out a three-year sentence in home confinement, published his book Disloyal: A Memoir on Tuesday and is at the start of a media blitz. He plead guilty in 2018 to tax evasion and campaign finance violations.
First and foremost among Trump’s media allies was the National Enquirer, and Cohen’s contention that Trump was tipped and even gave tacit approval to stories that trafficked in rumors about his 2016 Republican primary opponents. That included the Enquirer publication of a photo purported to show Ted Cruz’s father with Lee Harvey Oswald, a claim that has been debunked but nevertheless was still trafficked by the candidate.
On MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show on Tuesday, Maddow asked Cohen about that instance.
“You write that the president personally approved that insane story in the National Enquirer that was basically that Ted Cruz’s dad killed JFK or was involved with Lee Harvey Oswald. … Do you know if Senator Cruz knows that Donald — Donald Trump approved that personally and made that happen personally?”
“He does now,” Cohen said.
None of this is surprising, as Trump was longtime friends with David Pecker, then the CEO of the National Enquirer’s parent company American Media.
“As each candidate was moving up, let’s say Marco Rubio, David Pecker would reach out to me and he would give me a list of things that he was intending to do in order to squash Ted Cruz’s or Marco Rubio’s rise, whoever was rising in the poll,” Cohen said. “That’s who became the person that we needed to knock out of the campaign, out of the race.”
In the book, Cohen describes a moment in April 2016 when Pecker sent him the photo of Oswald and another man.
Cohen writes that he asked Pecker, “Do you know that’s Cruz’s father?”
“Does it matter?” Pecker said. “All we have to do is allege that it is.”
Pecker, Cohen writes, then sent him a mock up of the story, and Cohen then showed it to his boss.
“Story like this, it has to be the front page,” Trump said. They then called Pecker, and “soon the three of us were laughing and joking about what a great story it was going to be,” Cohen writes.
The story, though, actually got relatively little attention. “The tale was just too preposterous,” Cohen writes. Then, on the day of the Indiana primary, when Trump was trying to vanquish Cruz to become the presumptive nominee, he went on Fox & Friends and “complained that the story about Cruz’s father wasn’t getting enough attention in the press.”
It was readily apparent by then that the Enquirer favored Trump, as he was the subject of fawning stories while his rivals were the targets if negative pieces.
Cohen’s book also details his work with Pecker to “catch and kill” stories that were potentially scandalous to Trump. American Media already had admitted making payments to hush up ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal — who claimed she had sexual relations with Trump — in advance of the 2016 election. The company reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors over its $150,000 payment to McDougal. Trump has denied McDougal’s claims, and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany has dismissed Cohen. “He has lost all credibility, and it’s unsurprising to see his latest attempt to profit off of lies,” she told CNN.
A spokesperson for American Media did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the book, Cohen writes that it didn’t matter if stories about Trump’s 2016 rivals were true, as just getting them out in the media ecosphere was enough.
He writes, “The mainstream media would then write disapproving articles about the made-up story, but they’d always repeated the slander, providing yet more free press as the news cycle started to best resemble the eddy of a flushed toilet.”
In the Maddow interview, Cohen writes that the same thing is happening again with other media outlets.
“I hate to say it but there’s other stations right now that are doing the same thing,” Cohen told Maddow. “They are becoming state run television as well as newspapers that, you know, if Donald Trump sneezed, it’s the greatest sneeze in the history of the world. And front — front, you know, front page news story, breaking news.”