Presidential campaigns have been known to struggle from time to time with problematic surrogates. The Romney campaign in 2012, for example, had its share of official representatives who struggled to stay on message, and four years earlier, the McCain campaign ran into some trouble with surrogate Carly Fiorina.
But leave it to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to break new ground in this area. MSNBC’s Anna Brand reported:
Donald Trump is in the headlines again for comments about rape – only it wasn’t the presidential candidate who made the remarks this time around, but rather his attorney.Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, in response to decades-old allegations resurfaced in a recent article regarding Trump’s ex-wife, said “you can’t rape your spouse.”
The trouble started with a Daily Beast investigation into a rape allegation Ivana Trump made in 1989, a claim she has since walked back. The Daily Beast talked to Michael Cohen about the allegation, and the Trump attorney said, “You’re talking about the front-runner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.”
That, of course, is the opposite of the truth.
According to the published report, Cohen went on to tell the Daily Beast reporter working on the story, “I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know. So I’m warning you, tread very f—-ing lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f—-ing disgusting. You understand me?”
Trump’s lawyer added, “You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up … for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet … you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it.”
One of the striking things about Trump’s national campaign is that it never apologizes and never seems to show any regrets. In this case, however, a spokesperson for the Republican presidential hopeful said that Trump “didn’t know” of Cohen’s comments, but the candidate “disagrees with him.”
Cohen expressed regret in an official statement, acknowledging his “inarticulate comment” in a “moment of shock and anger.”
Apparently, Team Trump is capable of some contrition after all.
As for the larger context, BuzzFeed had an interesting piece on Cohen’s “ambiguous role” in the larger Trump enterprise.
Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, is also an executive vice president at the Trump Organization. He has no official role with the campaign and, per Federal Election Commission documents, isn’t being paid by the campaign.Despite this, Cohen frequently appears on television talking about Trump’s campaign and often fields reporters’ campaign-related questions. Though he told CNN on July 16 that “I’m not part of the campaign,” his high-profile role as a surrogate for the campaign, brought into sharp relief by Monday night’s controversy after he said that spouses cannot rape one another and threatened a Daily Beast reporter, raises questions about his exact role within the organization and as it pertains to the campaign.
Trump and his operation, in other words, may find it difficult to say Cohen’s comments are his own and unrelated to the GOP candidate’s national campaign.