Two months before the 2016 election, Donald Trump and his then-lawyer discussed plans to pay for a former Playboy model’s story of alleged an affair, according to a secretly recorded tape of the conversation released amid an escalating feud between the president and his longtime personal attorney.
The audio recording, surreptitiously made by Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, appears to contradict the 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 was provided to CNN on Tuesday by Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, and signals a new level of open hostility between the president and the man who once described himself as Trump’s “fixer.” Cohen, who is under federal investigation for potential bank fraud and campaign finance violations, has shown a growing willingness to reveal damaging information.
The conversation between Trump and Cohen came weeks after the National Enquirer’s parent company reached a $150,000 US deal to pay former Playboy model Karen McDougal for her story of a 2006 affair, which it never published, a tabloid practice known as catch and kill. Trump denies the affair ever happened and his campaign had said he knew nothing about the payment.
Trump and Cohen appear to be discussing buying the rights to McDougal’s story from the Enquirer’s parent company.
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.
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!
The audio is muffled, but Trump can be heard saying “pay with cash,” though it isn’t 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, “check” or “cheque.”
Trump fired back at Cohen over the recording on Wednesday morning.
“What kind of lawyer would tape a client? So sad!” the president wrote on Twitter.
The president’s current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told The Associated Press that he’s had an expert enhance the recording and the president says “don’t pay with cash.”
“It clearly indicates that the president did not want to pay with cash. Suggesting otherwise is ridiculous and is inconsistent with the rest of the conversation, during which it was discussed doing it through a corporation,” Giuliani said.
Giuliani said Cohen, as Trump’s lawyer, thought it would be best if he could buy the rights to McDougal’s story, and the recording captures the two of them discussing how to do that.
“Cohen says I have to pay him. The president brings up cash and says don’t pay with cash and says ‘cheque,’ he wants it memorialized,” Giuliani said. “Cohen then says ‘No, no, no, no’ and he cuts off the tape. He obviously cuts it off in mid-sentence and that in itself is suspicious.
“The president wanted to do it the right way. If you wanted to hide something, you would not do it by corporation or check,” Giuliani said.
‘Listen to the tape’
The payment was never made, and Giuliani said he didn’t know why that was the case and hadn’t discussed it with Trump.
“Listen to the tape. Donald Trump is not shocked money is being paid about someone named Karen McDougal,” Davis said during an interview with CNN.
In an earlier interview, Davis said Cohen released the tape in response to an “intense campaign of disparagement” from Giuliani and the president’s team, accusing Giuliani of “inventing words” as he disputes whether Trump referred to cash payments on the tape.
“He’s got truth on his side, and he’ll continue to tell the truth,” Davis said of Cohen.
Davis did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the AP on Tuesday night.
A dozen audio recordings
American Media, Inc.’s payment effectively silenced McDougal through the election, though days beforehand news of the deal emerged in The Wall Street Journal. At the time, a Trump spokesperson said his campaign had “no knowledge of any of this.”
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 US 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.
Giuliani said those recordings captured Cohen discussing the president with third parties, who he would not identify. They are also being enhanced by experts, he said.
Trump and Cohen can also be heard on the recording released Tuesday discussing other legal issues, including fighting a request by The New York Times to unseal court records concerning Trump’s divorce from his first wife, Ivana.