The Media Today

Cohen cuts in to Trump’s North Korea rerun

February 27, 2019

Before Donald Trump went public with plans to meet Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator, for a second nuclear summit, Trump’s aides urged caution. According to the AP’s Catherine Lucey and Jonathan Lemire, advisers warned the president that the media-friendly drama of his first meeting with Kim, which took place in Singapore last June, would be hard to replicate, and insisted that concrete results would need to be achieved. Trump reportedly brushed off the concerns. “He insisted to advisers that the summit would still be must-see TV,” Lucey and Lemire reported, “and told one confidant that the idea of ‘good vs. evil’ would be irresistible.”

The summit started about 90 minutes ago in Hanoi, Vietnam. Today’s irresistible, must-see TV, however, will come live from Washington, and will be less a battle of good and evil than an extended public mud fight. From 10am Eastern, Michael Cohen—the disgraced former Trump attorney who faces prison time for campaign finance violations, tax fraud, and lying to Congress—will testify to the House Oversight Committee that his old boss is “a racist,” “a conman,” and “a cheat.” Cohen’s testimony was hotly anticipated even before Politico and other outlets published his prepared remarks. Most strikingly, Cohen will tell lawmakers that Trump had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’s planned dump of damaging Democratic emails; Cohen says he saw Trump communicating with Roger Stone on the topic shortly before the Democratic National Convention in July 2016. Cohen will also shed new light on old news about Trump’s hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Trump Tower Moscow activities, and use wide-ranging anecdotes to outline Trump’s dishonorable, deceitful, and racist behavior. “He told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid,” Cohen is expected to say.

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Cohen, of course, has lied to Congress before. The White House was quick to highlight that yesterday: “It’s laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. While doubts as to Cohen’s credibility go well beyond Trump sycophants and sympathizers, however, reports spread last night that he has receipts and is bringing them to Congress. Cohen is set to provide a copy of a check Trump signed from his personal bank account as part of the Daniels payment and his own wire transfer in the same matter, as well as a letter Cohen crafted, at Trump’s instruction, warning the president’s old schools and colleges not to release his grades. He’s not expected to document his WikiLeaks allegation.

Everyone will be watching, including Trump. Hanoi is 12 hours ahead of the East Coast, but the president is expected to stay up and watch Cohen’s testimony, CNN reports. He already started tweeting about Cohen. Early this morning, a breaking news banner across the top of CNN’s homepage read: “Live from Hanoi: Trump tweets insults from Vietnam.” All week, today has been billed as a split-screen moment. Given the time difference, that was never going to be literally true. As Cohen starts talking, we’re more likely to see Trump’s reaction across the screen than anything he’s said or will say to Kim.

This coverage is not what Trump had in mind when he scheduled the summit: as the AP’s Lucey and Lemire wrote at the time, the president “was delighted that the first summit received round-the-clock cable TV coverage for days,” and had similar hopes for the “rerun.” Reruns, however, only air when there’s nothing new and interesting to show instead. It remains to be seen if Cohen will meaningfully damage Trump’s presidency. But he’s certainly stolen his slot.

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Below, more on Cohen, Kim, and Trump:

  • Vindication? Earlier this year, BuzzFeed courted criticism after the special counsel’s office explicitly denied its story that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress and that the special counsel had evidence proving this. Today, Cohen will clear that up, at least in part: “Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates,” he’s expected to say, noting that the direction was implicit.
  • Gaetz-keeper: Ahead of today’s testimony, Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican and strident Trump ally, tweeted at Cohen: “Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot…” He later deleted the tweet and apologized.
  • Disbarred: Yesterday, Cohen testified privately to the Senate Intelligence Committee, where he apologized for his previous lies. Around the same time, the New York state Supreme Court revealed that it’s disbarred Cohen over the same offense.
  • “Low expectations”:  Cohen’s testimony is a huge story, but it’s been helped to the top of the news cycle by low expectations that Trump and Kim’s summit will produce substantive agreement. The Times’s David E. Sanger and Choe Sang-Hun round up what’s at stake.

Other notable stories:

  • Shortly after he was detained at Venezuela’s presidential palace on Monday, Univision’s Jorge Ramos was expelled from the country yesterday. Daniel Garrido, a correspondent for Telemundo, was reporting that story in Caracas when unidentified armed men hooded him and bundled him into a vehicle. The men seized Garrido’s equipment and interrogated him for six hours. He was later freed.
  • For CJR’s “Perception Issue,” John Paul Brammer explores the renaissance of the advice column. “Following the election of Donald Trump to the White House, readers have landed on a truth that many within the profession refuse to grapple with: objective, neutral journalism doesn’t really exist; media is inherently biased,” Brammer writes. “The rise of advice columnists, we might conclude, is consistent with a growing desire among the public for members of the media to express moral clarity.”
  • A federal appeals court rejected the Justice Department’s bid to roll back AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, which owns CNN. With AT&T in full control after a protracted legal battle, Recode’s Peter Kafka outlines what might happen next.
  • American Media Inc., the parent company of The National Enquirer, is out with a glossy magazine evangelizing for Trump’s planned US Space Force and bashing Elon Musk, BuzzFeed’s Dan Vergano reports. AMI “denies that the federal government or the private space industry had any influence on the publication.” (The last time AMI denied outside editorial interference in a controversial magazine—a paean to Saudi Arabia called “The New Kingdom”—it actually did take edits from a Saudi royal adviser.)
  • Brass at CNN reassured the Democratic National Committee that Sarah Isgur Flores, the former Justice Department spokesperson and GOP operative the network is hiring as an editor, “will have no editorial decision-making control over the network’s coverage of the 2020 elections,” The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein and Maxwell Tani report. It’s still not clear what Isgur’s role will entail, exactly. Last week, I listed questions CNN should answer.
  • Also in CJR’s new issue, Lyz Lenz profiles Michael Sitrick, “a public relations puppet master who has pulled the strings behind some of the biggest stories in media.” And Andrew McCormick interviewed five anonymous PR execs, across five different industries, to find out what they really think of journalists.
  • According to prosecutors, Christopher Hasson, the Coast Guard lieutenant charged last week with plotting the mass murder of politicians and journalists, took inspiration from a manifesto prepared by Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people in 2011. “In contrast to media policies regarding the systematic messaging campaigns of the Islamic State and its ilk, there is no organized effort to limit access to murder manifestos,” J.M. Berger writes in The Atlantic. “Journalists should… mediate their propagandistic intent instead of blindly amplifying it.”
  • The Times’s Noah Weiland and Michael S. Schmidt profile Andrew Goldstein, a former reporter for Time magazine who now serves as a lead prosecutor on a key strand of the Mueller investigation.
  • And Jacob Wohl, the pro-Trump activist best known for his bungled Mueller smear campaign last year, told USA Today that he planned to use “online properties… to steer the left-wing votes in the primaries to what we feel are weaker candidates compared with Trump.” Yesterday, Twitter suspended Wohl for operating fake accounts, BuzzFeed’s Salvador Hernandez and Ryan Mac report.

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.