WASHINGTON (AP) — Two months before the 2016 election, Donald Trump and his lawyer discussed plans to pay for a former Playboy model’s story of an alleged affair, according to a secretly recorded tape released amid an escalating feud between the president and his longtime personal attorney.
The audio recording, made by Trump’s former 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 or 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 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 possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations, has shown a growing willingness to reveal damaging information.
On Wednesday, Trump vented on Twitter about the release of the surreptitious tape.
“What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So sad!” he said. “Is this a first, never heard of it before? Why was the tape so abruptly terminated (cut) while I was presumably saying positive things?”
In an earlier interview, Davis said Cohen released the tape in response to an “intense campaign of disparagement” from Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and the president’s team. He accused Giuliani of “inventing words” concerning the tape’s reference to cash payments.
Giuliani says Trump said “don’t pay with cash,” which he says shows Trump was not trying to hide the potential payment.
“The word is ‘cash.’ Everybody should listen to the tape and see whether I’m right or not,” Davis said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
The taped 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 a 2006 affair, which it never published, a tabloid practice known as catch and kill.
Davis also hinted that Cohen may have more to say.
“Michael Cohen has turned a corner in his life and he’s now dedicated to telling the truth to everyone, and we’ll see what happens,” Davis said.
Asked if Cohen was still seeking a presidential pardon while under federal investigation, Davis responded simply: “No.”
On the tape, Trump and Cohen 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 saying 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 responds.
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.”
Giuliani told The Associated Press that he’s had an expert, whom he did not name, enhance the recording and the president says “don’t 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 ‘check,’ 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,” he said.
Giuliani said he didn’t know why the payment was never made.