What went through Omarosa's or Michael Cohen's minds when they started secretly recording conversations at work? I can't tell you that. But I can tell you what was going through mine.

To nip any untoward rumors in the bud, the following predates my academic career by years. So no need to cast about looking for a culprit among the many wonderful academics at any institution I've ever been associated with. Or, let me spell it out: This is not about anyone in higher education, period.

In my early post-college life I worked directly for a ownership-level person at a company and that person was engaged in illegal activities that require, and will receive, no additional detail here because the specifics are not relevant. What is relevant is as follows:

1. I was being asked to do things that were either not legal or were highly suspect
2. I was about 22 and in a position with no power, dependent on the whims of one or two people for continued employment
3. I needed the job, as it paid above-average and I had recently graduated from college with not-insubstantial credit card debt. Basically whatever part of my college tuition and living expenses for three-plus years I couldn't borrow or pay for with earnings during summers and part-time during the school year, I charged. I did what I could under the circumstances in which I found myself.

So the first obvious question is, why not just quit? "Why didn't you quit" is a question often asked rhetorically that gives away a great deal about the privileges of the questioner. I didn't quit because like the vast majority of Americans I lived essentially paycheck to paycheck and didn't have another job offer handy. If there are people out there in the early 20s who can afford to quit a job and support themselves without one for an indeterminate time, I was not one of them.

Given this, I felt strongly that:

1. Someone might end up being arrested or going to jail, and it was NOT going to be me.
2. I was in a weak position in which I could, I imagined, be blamed for something I did not do and was not my fault
3. I needed to protect myself somehow and make it clear that I said no when asked to do certain things, and I needed something more than my word against a wealthy white guy's word to prove it.

This was pre-smartphone, but owning to some writing I did for a now-defunct sports website, I owned a small digital recorder. And on a couple of occasions – maybe three total – I used it to record conversations wherein I was extremely uncomfortable with some of the things being discussed and in which I was being involved against my will. I didn't ask to be there, in other words, and I didn't want to have anything to do with it. But short of quitting and walking out the door, I didn't see how to avoid it.

Nothing that involved me ended up coming of this, at least as far as I was affected. I left the job as soon as I could, and what legal consequences followed had nothing to do with me. I was relieved, obviously, and had not enjoyed what happened one bit. At the same time, however, I believed I had done the right thing to protect my own interests.

Obviously there is an angle with White House employees that wasn't a factor for me – the potential to sell-tell, or financially profit from taking recorded conversations to a tabloid or writing a book. Simply put, nobody cared about me or the job and nobody would have any interest in hearing the conversations.

In short, there are a small number of reasons someone might record a conversation:

1. Profit
2. Blackmail
3. Ass Covering in an environment where illegal things are happening

Apparently everybody is secretly recording everybody else in the circle of people around Trump, which is probably the least surprising thing we could learn. From the outside we can't assign one of these motives. All I can tell you is that from my perspective, profit or "blackmail" never even entered the picture. The dominant, and in fact only, consideration was that I recognized an illegal activity when I saw it and resolved that 1) I was not going to participate in any way and 2) I was not going to be the one punished for it, if it came to that.

My guess – and it is solely a guess, of course – is that the covering of one's own ass preoccupies the thoughts of everyone near or inside this White House. The president is a con man and a grifter, and no doubt he attracts some fellow grifters whose interests in recording conversations or collecting "evidence" may be to profit from it later. But I think a very basic human tendency in a workplace where employment is at-will and one is at the mercy of more powerful people is to recognize when something fishy is going on and ensure that if someone ends up going to jail or being called to account in the future that person is someone else.

20 thoughts on “PRESS (REC)”

  • Pretty good analysis, and all three rationales probably apply to most people surrounding the White House. Obviously, illegal things are happening, so ass-covering is appropriate. But ass-covering can also turn into profit pretty easily (who knows the next lucky beneficiary of Michael Cohen deciding to write a $130,000 check to prevent something embarrassing from leaking?). And from there, it's only a small step to get to blackmail. The place is a nest of grifters and backstabbers, so I'm sure a number of people are preparing themselves to take advantage.

  • About five years ago a meteor made a spectacular landing in Russia, and the internet was full of videos of the streak it made through the sky. There were dozens of them. Someone wondered why so many cameras managed to catch the meteor in its flight.

    In Russia, no one trusts anyone else. There is a whole industry of faking car accidents and insurance fraud. Even a careful driver could find himself in an accident through no fault of his own but accused of causing it by an entire lineup of witnesses. It was settle then and there or deal with the fallout with insurers and possibly the police.

    Needless to say, every car in Russia is equipped with a dashcam to provide evidence of what really happened. When the meteor shot through the sky, dozens, maybe hundreds of Russians were all set up for denial. Meteor, not mine. Amazingly, Putin hasn't outlawed this somehow.

  • When I worked in DC, I started openly referring to the city as King’s Landing, and that was during the Obama years. I can’t even imagine what it’s like now.

  • What JD said. This White House is the most wretched hive of scum and villainy this side of Mos Eisley, anyone in that mess is crazy not to have leverage on their co-conspirators.

  • I pay little to no attention to the NoNewz that is out there–including PBS–but I think I did see a minute or two of Omarosa with Judy Woodruff. She's got am awesome talented, legal team who will be blowing the lid off the sewer that the swamp was drained into!

    @Just Russ:

    "This White House is the most wretched hive of scum and villainy this side of Mos Eisley,"

    Compared to the Trumpliguturdz? Fuhgeddabottit!

    Mos Eisleenz are the Bridge&Tunnel Crowd. SAD!

  • The fact that security at the White House is so lax that employees are allowed to bring phones or other recording devices in and out boggles my mind. Oh well, I guess they figure it can't hurt any more than having a Russian asset in the Oval Office.

  • @ronzie9:

    "I guess they figure it can't hurt any more than having a Russian asset in the Oval Office."

    I cannot believe that you said such a thing about a kneeling PotUS.

  • I would imagine that, for just about everyone who works for Trump, at some point the rewards of turning on him in exchange for ten minutes of fame and a hefty publishing advance will outweigh the shame, drudgery, and sheer exhaustion of having to put up with him day after day. Eventually, Washington's fastest-growing cottage industry could become the gut-spillings and ass-coverings of those who have sold their souls and now want to sell their books. Wouldn't it be ironic if the greater danger to our grifter-in-chief turned out not be the special prosecutor, but the mob of small-time grifters he has surrounded himself with?

  • You're that carpetbagging bastard who sold me those wooden nutmegs in aught two! I knew I seen you some place before! Didn't participate, my ass!

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    This is the first White House of the social media era. Everyone is going to market and monetize absolutely everything. That doesn't mean they don't have other motivations. It's just a given. Moral convictions can also be Intellectual Property.

  • "This is the first White House of the social media era."

    I disagree.

    This is the 1st WH in which the CEO is a shallow fucking twit who likely can't parse a sentence AS WELL as Shrubya!

    BTW, I'm sitting in a waiting room @ VAMC-Syracuse

  • Had not finished my previous comment.

    I'm sitting in a waiting room and have had two "street preaching" types annoying me and some other people. It's hard to NOT tell them to STFU.

  • What held you back, Demo? Politeness in the face of the toxic nonsense of aggressive evangelical Yahwehism is not a necessary virtue. :(

  • I have business cards printed up for just such occasion, dc, which I politely hand the offending preachers. On one side under the heading "What would Jesus do?" is Mathew 5:5 … When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

    On the other side under the banner "put it in the closet" Mathew 5:6 … But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

    They hate it (of course) when I do that.

  • @Brian M:

    Countering that nonsense in a clinic's waiting room when it's not me they're after is a lot different than when they come to my door.

    I try to stay out of the waiting rooms for the most part because in addition to a lot of variously pissed-off vets they run CNN.

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