More Reporting on the Michael Cohen-Jerry Falwell Jr. “Racy Photos” Story

U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. during a campaign event in Sioux City Iowa

Last night we did a post on this story.  Get up to speed here.  Since then, Washington Post writers Felicia Sonmez and Sarah Pulliam Bailey have done some additional reporting.  It turns out that actor Tom Arnold is part of the story.  But here is some material from the article that the original Reuters piece did not include:

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal attorney, claimed to have helped prevent the release of personal photographs embarrassing to Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. shortly before the influential evangelical leader endorsed Trump’s insurgent presidential bid in 2016.

Cohen made the assertion, which was first reported by Reuters, in a phone call in March with actor Tom Arnold. Arnold provided The Washington Post with a recording of the call Tuesday night.

“There’s a bunch of photographs — you know, personal photographs — that somehow, the guy ended up getting,” Cohen said on the call. The person who had the photos, who is not identified on the call, was demanding money from the Falwells, and Cohen threatened to report the person to legal authorities, according to Reuters.

Reuters reported that the alleged episode took place months before Falwell’s endorsement of Trump. Arnold told The Post that Cohen told him it occurred during the presidential race.

A statement released by an attorney for the Falwells called the account “not accurate.”

Read the entire piece here.  Let’s see how this plays out.

Michael Cohen Helped Jerry Falwell Jr. Handle “Racy Photos”

U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. during a campaign event in Sioux City Iowa

The court evangelical plot thickens.

It looks like Michael Cohen does not only “take care of things” with Trump’s adult film star lovers, but he also has the back of the president of evangelical Liberty University.  Let’s see how this plays out.

Here is Aram Roston’s reporting at Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Months before evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr.’s game-changing presidential endorsement of Donald Trump in 2016, Falwell asked Trump fixer Michael Cohen for a personal favor, Cohen said in a recorded conversation reviewed by Reuters.

Falwell, president of Liberty University, one of the world’s largest Christian universities, said someone had come into possession of what Cohen described as racy “personal” photographs — the sort that would typically be kept “between husband and wife,” Cohen said in the taped conversation.

According to a source familiar with Cohen’s thinking, the person who possessed the photos destroyed them after Cohen intervened on the Falwells’ behalf.

Read the rest at the Reuters website.

What Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress Said Tonight on Fox Business News

It’s been a “great” week for the President of the United States.  Think about it:

  1.  Trump’s former lawyer testified before Congress and called president a liar, a racist, an adulterer, a con man, and a cheat.  And then he produced evidence which seems to implicate Trump in federal crimes.
  2. Trump went to Vietnam to meet with the North Korean dictator.  While he was there, the North Korean dictator told Trump that he was unaware that an American college student was imprisoned and tortured in his country.  Trump believed what the dictator told him, stating “I will take him at his word.”  The parents of the now-dead college student are outraged at this act of insensitivity.
  3. New York Times story uncovered that Donald Trump insisted that his son-in-law be given a top-secret security clearance despite the fact that intelligence officials and the White House top lawyer said this what a bad idea.  This is blatant nepotism.  The story also proves that Trump has lied about this on multiple occasions.

You would think the court evangelicals might lay low on a week like this.  Nope.  Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church at Dallas, went on Fox Business News tonight and praised Trump:

There are so, so many problems with this video:

  1. Jeffress takes a victory lap because 80% of Americans claim to believe in God.  He says anyone who does not believe in God is a moron.  As long as Rev. Jeffress is throwing around Bible verses, perhaps he should consider Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. ”  How does he reconcile this verse with his triumphant running-of-the mouth about a Pew poll that says 80% of Americans believe in God?
  2. If Robert Jeffress is a minister of the Gospel, why does he condemn Democrats and others on the “Left” who do not believe in God by attacking them with such provocative and angry rhetoric?  Is this helping him reach the lost souls he claims to care so much about?  His choice to take a pay check from Fox News and serve as the conservative network’s evangelical culture warrior seems counterproductive to his calling a soul-winner.
  3.  Jeffress continues to make the claim that the United States was founded and continues to be a Christian nation.  He is wrong.  I address these claims in both Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction and Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  In Believe Me, I engage Jeffress directly.  Much of his understanding of American history comes from political activist David Barton.
  4. Lou Dobbs’s decision to talk to Jeffress about sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church is thick with irony.  Dobbs is talking to the pastor of one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the United States.  He does not seem to realize that the Southern Baptist Convention is plagued with sexual abuse scandals right now.  Jeffress has said nothing to condemn the sexual abuse scandals in his denomination and he says nothing about them in this interview.  Shame on him!
  5. Finally, for a a nuanced view on late-term abortions, see Michael Wear‘s recent piece in The Atlantic.

The Republican Party Knows Michael Cohen’s Testimony is True

 

meadows and cohen

Republican Congressmen Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan

The New York Times is running a very revealing op-ed by Peter Wehner, a fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, on Michael Cohen’s testimony before Congress yesterday.

 

Here is a taste:

Yet Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, in their frantic effort to discredit Mr. Cohen, went after him while steadfastly ignoring the actual evidence he produced. They tried to impugn his character, but were unable to impugn the documents he provided. Nor did a single Republican offer a character defense of Mr. Trump. It turns out that was too much, even for them.

In that sense, what Republicans didn’t say reveals the truth about what happened at the hearing on Wednesday as much as what they did say. Republicans showed no interest, for example, in pursuing fresh allegations made by Mr. Cohen that Mr. Trump knew that WikiLeaks planned to release hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee in the summer of 2016.

In a sane world, the fact that the president’s former lawyer produced evidence that the president knowingly and deceptively committed a federal crime — hush money payments that violated campaign finance laws — is something that even members of the president’s own party would find disquieting. But not today’s Republican Party.

Instead, in the most transparent and ham-handed way, they saw no evil and heard no evil, unless it involved Mr. Cohen. Republicans on the committee tried to destroy the credibility of his testimony, not because they believe that his testimony is false, but because they fear it is true.

By now Republicans must know, deep in their hearts, that Mr. Cohen’s portrayal of Mr. Trump as a “racist,” “a con man” and “a cheat” is spot on. So it is the truth they fear, and it is the truth — the fundamental reality of the world as it actually is — that they feel compelled to destroy. This is the central organizing principle of the Republican Party now. More than tax cuts. More than trade wars. More even than building a wall on our southern border. Republicans are dedicated to annihilating truth in order to defend Mr. Trump and they will go after anyone, from Mr. Cohen to Robert Mueller, who is a threat to him.

Read the entire piece here.

Donald Trump is a Mafia Thug

I repeat:  It appears that Trump is running the government like Michael Corleone in Godfather 2.  Trump threatened Cohen’s father on Fox News and elsewhere.  Now Cohen is not going to testify before Congress.  Hmm…

Here is what the meeting between Trump and the rest of his advisers might have looked like as they plotted to “get to” Pantengeli Cohen:

Trump prefers apples to oranges:

Donald J. Trump, Taking Over The Big Apple

If Pantengeli Cohen eventually does testify, you might see this:

Who Got to Michael Cohen?

The former Trump attorney and fixer is now limiting what he is willing to talk about when he testifies before Congress.  Here is CNN:

Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony next month will exclude any topic that’s “under investigation,” Republicans say they were told by Cohen’s lawyer, which could mean Cohen won’t discuss lying to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project or the payments made to women during the 2016 campaign for their silence.

Reps. Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, senior Republicans on the House Oversight Committee, released a letter to Cohen’s attorney Guy Petrillo discussing their conversation with another Cohen attorney, Lanny Davis.

In the letter, Jordan and Meadows write that Davis told them Cohen’s testimony was likely to be “unsatisfying” and “frustrating” because of the topics that would be off limits.

Read the rest here.

🙂

Why the Buzzfeed Story, if Inaccurate, Could Backfire on Trump

Here is some speculation:

Buzzfeed issued a story claiming that they had two sources who told them that Donald Trump told Michael Cohen to lie before Congress.  Twenty-four hours later, a spokesperson for Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Donald Trump’s connections with Russia, said that the story was “not accurate.”

As of now, Buzzfeed stands by the story:

And Trump’s counsel Rudy Giuliani has responded:

So if I read this correctly, Giuliani (and by extension Trump?) is affirming the integrity of the Mueller investigation.  So if Mueller is right about the Buzzfeed article, why wouldn’t he also be right about everything else in an investigation that Trump has described as a “witchhunt?”

Trump may win this battle.  But when Mueller’s report comes out and Trump denies its accuracy, his opponents will bring up this incident.  This incident only strengthens the integrity of the Mueller investigation in the long term.

Just some random thoughts for your Friday night.

Hey Liberty University, This is What Happens When You Get Into Bed with Donald Trump and “All the Best People” Who Work for Him

U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. during a campaign event in Sioux City Iowa

A top-level administrator at one of the largest universities in the world rigged online polls to promote Donald Trump as a great businessman.  These polls were used to puff Trump in preparation for his presidential run.  Cohen paid John Gauger, Liberty University’s Chief Information Officer, to manipulate the polls in Trump’s favor.  Gauger claims that Cohen paid him between $12K and $13K in a blue Walmart bag.  (Cohen claims he paid with a check, but that’s not really the point here).  Cohen says that Donald Trump directed him to find someone who could rig the polls.

Lindsay Ellis of The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

President Trump’s former top lawyer paid Liberty University’s chief information officer to manipulate online polls in an effort to raise Trump’s profile before his successful presidential campaign, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The news shows a deeper relationship than previously reported between the president and employees of the university, a private Christian institution located in Virginia and led by Jerry L. Falwell Jr., a prominent Trump ally.

The Liberty technology administrator, John Gauger, also created a Twitter account, @WomenForCohen, to promote the president’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, according to the Journal. “Strong, pit bull, sex symbol, no nonsense, business oriented, and ready to make a difference,” the account’s description read on Thursday.

In one post reviewed by The Chronicle, the @WomenForCohen account shared a photo of Cohen, Falwell, and his wife. “Love to see good #Christian people on board the #TrumpTrain #Liberty #Trump2016,” the account wrote. The Journal reported that a female friend of Gauger operated the @WomenForCohen account.

Gauger told the Journal he had been paid by Cohen with a blue Walmart bag filled with $12,000 to $13,000 in cash, as well as a boxing glove once used by a Brazilian athlete. Cohen disputed that characterization, telling the Journal that Gauger had been paid by check, not cash.

Those previously unreported connections are the latest in a longstanding series of ties between Trump and Liberty. Trump has delivered multiple speeches at Liberty in recent years, including at a 2017 commencement. An administrator and Liberty students also produced a film about a former firefighter who said he had heard God say that Trump would be the next president.

Read the entire piece here.

Jerry Falwell Jr, the president of Liberty University and a prominent court evangelical, said that he knew Gauger was working for Trump, but claims he did not know the nature of the work.  Frankly, I find the latter claim hard to believe.  When it comes to Trump, Falwell seems to know just about everything that happens on his campus.  He refused to allow the student newspaper to run an anti-Trump story. He prevented anti-Trumper Shane Claiborne and others from coming on campus to pray.  And he forced an anti-Trump member of the Board of Trustees (and longtime Falwell family friend) to resign.  Falwell is thorough.  How could he have missed the fact that one of his administrators was rigging polls to try to manipulate the American public on behalf of the man who Falwell has described as the evangelical “dream president.”

When I read this story I decided to take a look at Gauger’s @womenforcohen Twitter account.  The tweets reveal that this Liberty University employee got into political bed with Michael Cohen and, by extension, Donald Trump.  As I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, this is what happens when you get too close to political power  As you read these tweets, please recall that Cohen is going to jail for violation of campaign finance laws and the person responsible for the tweets is a senior administrator at Liberty.

 

Falwell Jr. Blames Cohen-Manafort Debacle on Jeff Sessions

Of course he is.  Anything to protect the president.  This is what court evangelicals do.

Note:  Falwell Jr. blocked me a long time ago so I need to read his tweets through the tweets of others.  Thanks Jack Jenkins.

 

Did the President of the United States Commit a Felony?

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump blows a kiss to supporters following a campaign rally in Akron

I am not a law professor, but if what Michael Cohen said today is true, then Donald Trump committed a felony:

A few quick thoughts:

  1. If true, it is unlikely that Congress will do anything about this.  Right and wrong, good and bad, and legal or illegal is defined by politics, not morality or truth.
  2. If history is any indication, Congress and other POTUS defenders will say that Trump, if guilty, should get a pass because this happened before he was the President.  After all, the economy is doing well right now.
  3. The Giuliani spin is coming.  I am guessing he will go with the “discredit Cohen” approach.  Stay tuned.

“Mark Burns, can we USE him anymore?”

Burns MarkTonight CNN released an audio file of the 2016 Donald Trump-Michael Cohen conversation (recorded by Cohen) in which the candidate and his lawyer discuss making a payment to cover-up an alleged Trump affair with Playboy playmate Karen McDougal.

In addition to the discussion of the McDougal payment, Trump and Cohen talk about two evangelical supporters of the presidential candidate: South Carolina pastor Mark Burns and Ohio pastor Darrell Scott.

Here is what I heard on the recording:

Trump:  Pastor Scott, what’s happening?  Can we use him any more?

Cohen: “Oh yeah…100 [percent?].  No, your friend Mark Burns.  We told him to stop.

Trump:  I don’t mean [him]. Mark Burns, can we use him any more?

Cohen: No.

First, it seems that Trump confuses Scott and Burns, the two most prominent African-American pro-Trump pastors.

Second, Cohen says that they can still “use” Scott, but not Burns.  This is quite telling. In fact, clergy allowing themselves to be used for political gain is exactly what I had in mind when I coined the term “court evangelical.”  There is a long history of evangelicals getting “used” by presidents and presidential candidates.  I write about them in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Third, we now know Michael Cohen was involved in managing Trump’s relationship with these evangelical advisers.

Fourth, Burns, a Trump surrogate who prayed at the Republican National Convention, was probably deemed no longer “useful” because he created a minor scandal by posting a picture of Hillary Clinton in blackface.  Then CNN learned that he lied about his resume.  Both of these stories broke in September 2016, the same month that Cohen recorded his conversation with Trump.

Fifth, as these posts indicate, Burns continued to be an informal Trump surrogate well after the election.  I guess the ban on Burns only lasted for a short time.  At some point Trump must have thought he could start “using” him again.

Two Minutes of Fame on CNN

As some of you know, I made my CNN debut today. 🙂  I am glad that they featured Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  The interview took place via Skype in my small office (more like a bunker) in the basement of my house!

Here it is (starting at about the 30:00 mark):

A few quick comments:

  1. I was honored to share the segment with Nahal Toosi of Politico.  Here is her most recent piece.
  2. I have a large head, but the producers insisted that I move even closer to the camera.
  3. Once they had the camera angle they wanted, they told me not to move!  (So no, I am not usually that stiff!).
  4. I obviously heard the audio, but I could not see Christi Paul or Nahal Toosi.  I was just staring at a black screen for the entire interview.
  5. I used less than 1% of my preparation for the interview on the air.  I guess that’s show business!  🙂

Trump, Cohen, and the Godfather

I’ve been playing around with some tweets the last couple of days in the wake of the Michael Cohen investigation.  When I saw the picture of Michael Cohen hanging around his posse yesterday I couldn’t help but think of Fredo in the The Godfather 2:

Or maybe Carlo Rizzi from The Godfather is more appropriate.  Here is holding court before he gets beat up by Sonny Corleone:

And then there was this photo of a guy whispering something in Cohen’s ear.  Who was this guy?  It reminded me of this classic scene near the end of Godfather 2: