Politics

‘Embarrassing,’ but Trump-Cohen Tape Talk Not ‘Illegal,’ Priebus Says

Former White House chief of staff said he figured out over time that 'nothing sticks to' the president, no matter the media hysteria

Image Credit: Voice of America

President Donald Trump’s taped 2016 conversation with his then-personal attorney Michael Cohen on buying the rights to a Playboy model’s story of an alleged affair is “not illegal,” though it might be embarrassing, former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said Tuesday during an exclusive interview on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle.”

“At the very worst, it might be embarrassing, but it’s not illegal,” Priebus (shown above) told Fox News host Laura Ingraham. “One thing I have learned from being out of the sort of spotlight and the daily grind is that when you go back to Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio … I have not found a single person who is swayed by any of these stories [that are] a massive financial boon to … cable news, and especially a couple of other networks.”

CNN obtained a recording of a September 2016 conversation between Trump and Cohen concerning buying the story rights to Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story of an alleged affair with Trump from a decade ago.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, now part of Trump’s legal team, has said that the payment was never made. Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, gave the recording to CNN for release Tuesday on “Cuomo Prime Time.”

Trump can be heard asking in the recording, “What financing?” as Cohen insists that “We’ll have to pay.” The two men then have a muddled exchange on whether to pay in cash or via check.

“The transcript makes it quite clear at the end that President Trump says, ‘Don’t pay with cash,'” Giuliani told Ingraham during an exclusive interview Tuesday. “Cohen then interrupts and says, ‘No, no, no. I got it.'”

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Giuliani said that Trump wanted to pay via check, which then led Cohen to say, “No, no, no” before quickly shutting of the recording.

“There’s no way the president is going to be talking about setting up a corporation and then using cash unless you are a complete idiot. And the president is not an idiot,” Giuliani said.

“The major point is it’s outrageous that someone would tape his client surreptitiously. And number two, it’s also foolhardy for them to try to yell and scream and make believe what’s on the tape,” Giuliani added. “There’s no indication of any crime being committed on this tape.”

Giuliani emphasized that Trump “didn’t know about this transaction” possibility until the taped conversation took place, noting that the transaction never went through.

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Although Priebus said he hadn’t heard the tape personally, he said, “What I have done is looked at the story from CNN on their own website. And even in their own story they’re sort of equivocating back and forth as to what the president said or didn’t say. And it’s not really clear what he said or didn’t say.”

Admitting that he used to be “one of the people that would freak out over every one of these kinds of stories” during Trump’s presidential campaign and when he served as the president’s chief of staff, Priebus said he figured out over time that “nothing sticks to” the president.

“None of this sticks. And what I found about his character is that he is a person … that can handle 50 total massive bullets coming at you and arrows and however you want to term it at one time, remain the same kind of person on a pretty much daily basis,” Priebus said.

But if, “somehow or another,” some of these distractions “could just go away by 50 percent,” then Trump would be at a “65 percent-plus approval rating,” he insisted.

“So I do also believe that there is a huge benefit to the president in putting some of these things to bed,” Priebus said. “But I also know that the president has, in spite of all of those types of advice that I’ve given, he’s also defied it all.”

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Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz also reacted Tuesday to the Cohen-Trump tape news, telling Ingraham that “I don’t think you can infer guilt from a payment of money.”

“Look, I think the tape is ambiguous. I think Rudy Giuliani did a good job on your show in explaining it,” Dershowitz said. “And I think there a few conclusions that we can reach. Number one: There’s no crime … This doesn’t provide evidence of a crime. Number two: It does show that Cohen and Trump are no longer joined at the hip, and Cohen will no longer take a bullet for the president. He may, in fact, fire a bullet at him.”

Cohen found himself in special counsel Robert Mueller’s crosshairs during the Russia collusion probe and now is under investigation on possible bank fraud charges and campaign finance violations in connection with a payment he made to porn star Stormy Daniels, who also claimed to have engaged in an affair with Trump.

“I don’t see a campaign finance violation. But even if there was, as I said months ago on your show I think, it’s pretty small potatoes in the grand scheme of things,” Solomon Wisenberg, former deputy special counsel for Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater-Lewinsky investigation of former President Bill Clinton, told Ingraham.

“No president is going to be impeached for a relatively minor campaign finance violation. At most it’s very embarrassing. This is the least of the president’s troubles, I think,” Wisenberg added.

Priebus told Ingraham that “what frustrates Trump the most” is “that he has an economy that’s booming … he’s doing all the things he promised to do, and he is competing with a 24/7 media cycle that really doesn’t profit on sort of, you know, not even just good news, but fairness, and there’s two sides of a story.”

“There’s only money in division,” Priebus added. “Unity is a loser, division is profit.”

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