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What’s up with Tucker Carlson’s leaked tapes of Michael Cohen’s secret CNN conversations?

Fox News host Tucker Carlson has been broadcasting leaked audio recordings on his show. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Over the past two weeks, viewers of Tucker Carlson’s Fox News opinion show have been treated to what his news colleagues might consider a significant scoop: leaked audio recordings of CNN heavyweights, including anchor Chris Cuomo and President Jeff Zucker, speaking candidly with former Trump fixer Michael Cohen.

Cohen has said publicly that he does not know how the recordings made their way into Carlson’s hands. On Twitter, he stated that the only people who possess the tapes beside himself are President Trump, the Trump Organization and the Department of Justice, adding, “I did not give this recording or authorization for its use to @FoxNews or anyone.” (A Fox News spokesperson said that the network does not reveal its sources.)

Court documents revealed July 18, 2019, showed Michael Cohen repeatedly spoke with former president Donald Trump amid the effort to pay Stormy Daniels. (Video: The Washington Post)

While the origin of the tapes is still shrouded in mystery, what’s clear is that Carlson has relished the chance to use them to bash CNN over the head, part of a long-running — and seemingly intensifying — war with the network that once employed him. And if it seems like a curious diversion for a political pundit during a busy election season, Carlson’s CNN fixation broadly aligns with the Trump campaign’s media-bashing strategy.

CNN has declined to comment on the content of the tape recordings. Network officials see the tapes as part of a concerted effort by Trump-boosting conservatives to attack critics of the president and have chosen not to engage with any of the drip-drip revelations. (Conservative consultant Arthur Schwartz, who has described himself as “basically a [expletive] troll on Twitter,” has heavily promoted the leaks on social media.)

The release of the tapes seems timed to undermine the rollout of Cohen’s tell-all book, “Disloyal,” which has brought the onetime press antagonist to MSNBC and Don Lemon’s CNN show for promotional interviews.

After teasing the tapes on a Friday night show, Carlson broadcast the first recording on Sept. 1. In it, Cuomo can be heard complaining to Cohen about journalists calling his former colleagues at ABC, where he once worked, “and lying about things they heard about me to try and get stories about me” involving his behavior toward women. Though the conversation was ambiguous, Carlson seized upon it to question whether Cuomo had been accused of sexual harassment. (No such claims have been reported.)

The Cuomo brothers put on quite a show. Should the journalism-ethics police shut it down?

The next recording featured Zucker, who can be heard talking fondly about then-candidate Donald Trump, during the heat of the 2016 Republican presidential primary and reverently referring to him as “the boss.”

Zucker, who launched the Trump reality show “The Apprentice” in 2004 while he oversaw the NBC’s entertainment division, has since emerged as a harsh critic of the president and his treatment of the press. The 2016 recording captured a much more amiable Zucker who floated the idea of Trump hosting a show on his network. “I have all these proposals for him,” Zucker is heard saying. “I want to do a weekly show with him and all this stuff.”

In the recording, Zucker expressed concern about the consequences of his conversations with the president going public, saying, “You know, as fond as I am of the boss, he also has a tendency — if I call him or I email him, he then is capable of going out in his next rally and saying that we just talked, and I can’t have that, if you know what I’m saying.”

Tucker Carlson says there’s ‘no connection’ between writer’s hateful blog posts and his Fox News show

Carlson’s third audio release, on Wednesday night, was a clip of Cuomo discussing a potential interview with Cohen in 2018 — in Carlson’s view, proof that Cuomo had “scripted” an interview for Cohen. Cuomo is heard telling Cohen that he would seek guidance on the legal ramifications of what Cohen might say in an interview.

It’s unknown whether Carlson plans to release more leaked recordings. They certainly found one fan. President Trump greeted the first Cuomo tape by tweeting that CNN should fire him. (“He speaks with great disrespect about women, and it will only get worse.”) Trump also implied that he has insight into Carlson’s broadcasts, tweeting this week that there are “many more tapes” of Cohen with Cuomo “and other media scum reporters.”

Cuomo has been a frequent punching bag on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” During a July 2019 segment, Carlson said that Cuomo “can barely speak English” and showed videos of Cuomo working out, with a caption at the bottom of the screen reading “How Did This Man Get Into Yale University?” In April, Carlson mocked a dramatic video of Cuomo leaving his basement after being quarantined there after contracting covid-19. “We watched him seize every chance to remind everyone watching that he was very sick and in very strict containment,” Carlson said. A few days later, Carlson interviewed a man who claimed to have had a verbal confrontation with Cuomo outside his home in the Hamptons in the days before his reentry, suggesting that it was “fake” and a “scandal.”

The rhetorical war has been two-sided. In March 2019, Cuomo called Carlson a “coward” who is “on the Trump train over at state TV.” He also occasionally mocks the network during his nightly handoff segments with Lemon.

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