A secretly recorded tape has revealed that US President Donald Trump and his former lawyer discussed plans to pay for a former Playboy model’s story of alleged an affair.
The conversation was recorded two months before the 2016 US presidential election by Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
On the tape, Trump and Cohen can be heard discussing paying off Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who allegedly had an affair with Trump in 2006.
The conversation between Trump and Cohen came weeks after the National Enquirer’s parent company reached a $150,000 deal to pay McDougal for her story of the affair, which it never published, a tabloid practice known as catch and kill.
The recorded conversation contradicts Trump campaign’s later claim that the president knew nothing about a media company’s purchase of model Karen McDougal’s story and any efforts to keep it from becoming public.
The tape captures the soon-to-be-elected president and his lawyer discussing logistics of financing and whether to “pay with cash,” although the sound is muffled and Trump’s instructions on that are unclear. Lawyers for Trump and Cohen are disputing what was said.
The men appear to be discussing buying the rights to McDougal’s story from the Enquirer’s parent company. Trump’s lawyers say the payments were never made.
Cohen can be heard on the tape saying that he needed to start a company “for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David,” a possible reference to David Pecker, Trump’s friend and president of the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc.
When Cohen begins to discuss financing, Trump interrupts him and asks, “What financing?”
“We’ll have to pay,” Cohen responded.
The audio is muffled, but Trump can be heard saying “pay with cash,” though it is not clear if he is suggesting to pay with cash or not to pay with cash. Cohen immediately says, “No, no, no” and Trump can then be heard saying, “cheque.”
Cohen, who is under federal investigation for potential bank fraud and campaign finance violations, has shown a growing willingness to reveal damaging information.
The tape was provided to CNN on Tuesday by Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, and signals a new level of open hostility between the president and the man who once described himself as Trump’s “fixer.”
Davis said Cohen released the tape in response to an “intense campaign of disparagement” from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the president’s team, accusing Giuliani of “inventing words” as he disputes whether Trump referred to cash payments on the tape.
Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to denounce Cohen’s act of recording the conversation after calling the recording of the tape “possibly illegal” earlier this week.
“What kind of lawyer would tape a client?” Trump asked before claiming the tape was cut off “while he was presumably saying positive things”.
What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So sad! Is this a first, never heard of it before? Why was the tape so abruptly terminated (cut) while I was presumably saying positive things? I hear there are other clients and many reporters that are taped – can this be so? Too bad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2018
According to Giuliani, however, Trump says “don’t pay with cash” on the tape, which he says shows Trump was not trying to hide the potential payment.
The payment by American Media Inc effectively silenced McDougal through the election, though days beforehand news of the deal emerged in The Wall Street Journal.
At the time, a Trump spokeswoman said his campaign had “no knowledge of any of this,” a claim which is contradicted by the release of the tape.
The FBI raided Cohen’s office, home and hotel room in April, searching in part for information about payments to McDougal and porn actress Stormy Daniels, who says she had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006 – which Trump denies – and was paid $130,000 as part of a non-disclosure agreement signed days before the 2016 election.
A dozen audio recordings seized during those raids were forwarded to federal prosecutors last week after lawyers dropped challenges on attorney-client privilege grounds.