Update: The Wall Street Journal adds some interesting color to the story - reporting that Cohen taped the conversation in person, that they discussed acquiring the rights to McDougal's story which was previously sold to the National Enquirer's parent company, and that the recording, which was under two minutes long, cuts out before the conversation ended.
President Trump's former longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, secretly recorded Trump two months before the 2016 US election discussing payments to a former Playboy model who said she and Trump had an affair, according to the New York Times, citing lawyers and others familiar with the recording which was seized during an FBI raid on Cohen's office.
The F.B.I. seized the recording this year during a raid on Mr. Cohen’s office. The Justice Department is investigating Mr. Cohen’s involvement in paying women to tamp down embarrassing news stories about Mr. Trump ahead of the 2016 election. Prosecutors want to know whether that violated federal campaign finance laws, and any conversation with Mr. Trump about those payments would be of keen interest to them. -NYT
The existence of the recording will undoubtedly kick open the door to tactics Trump and his associates have used to keep aspects of his business dealings and personal life secret, posits the Times, while it also highlights the potential legal and political danger that Cohen poses to Trump.
Cast outside of Trump's inner circle, Cohen recently lawyered up with longtime Clinton pal Lanny Davis, who suggested two weeks ago that Cohen cooperating with prosecutors might not work out so well for Trump.
Did @rudygiuliani really say on Sunday shows that @michaelcohen212 should cooperate with prosecutors and tell the truth? Seriously? Is that Trump and Giuliani definition of “truth”? Trump/Giuliani next to the word “truth” = oxymoron. Stay tuned. #thetruthmatters— Lanny Davis (@LannyDavis) July 9, 2018
"We have nothing to say on this matter," said Davis when asked about the tape.
Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, told the Times that the recording existed, however the payment to McDougal was never made.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, confirmed in a telephone conversation on Friday that Mr. Trump had discussed the payments with Mr. Cohen on the tape but said the payment was ultimately never made. He said the recording was less than two minutes and demonstrated that the president had done nothing wrong. -NYT
“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance,” said Giuliani, adding that Trump had previously told Cohen that if he were to make a payment related to the woman, to write a check instead of sending cash so that the transaction could be properly documented. “In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence,” Giuliani added.
The former model, Karen McDougal, claims to have had a nearly yearlong affair with Trump in 2006, right before Melania Trump gave birth to their son Barron. McDougal sold her story to the National Enquirer for $150,000 as the 2016 presidential campaign was in its final months, however the tabloid sat on the story which kept it from becoming public in a practice known as "catch and kill."
The Enquirer's chairman, David J. Pecker, is a personal friend of Trump's, and McDougal has accused Cohen of taking part in the deal.
Cohen made a similar payment of $130,000 to porn star and stripper Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Cohen said at the time "In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford."
Clifford is suing Trump over a nondisclosure agreement so that she can "tell her story" (in the form of a book, we imagine), while she is also suing both Trump and Cohen for libel after Trump called her statements "fraud" over Twitter, while claiming that Clifford fabricated a story that she was threatened by a man after she went to journalists with the story of her affair.
Shortly before the 2016 election, former Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said that McDougal's allegations were "totally untrue."