The attorney for President Trump's former longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen has given CNN a copy of a secretly recorded conversation between Trump and Cohen, in which they discuss purchasing the rights to a Playboy model's claim that she and Trump had an affair. The discussion took place in September 2016, in the lead-up to the presidential election.
The 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."
Cohen, who secretly recorded the conversation, can be heard telling Trump that he needs “to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David," likely referring to American Media Inc. head David Pecker.
CNN airs audio from the Michael Cohen/Trump tape where they discuss paying off Karen McDougal pic.twitter.com/gRZXUE2cMF— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) July 25, 2018
"I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David," Cohen said in the recording, likely a reference to American Media head David Pecker.
Trump interrupts Cohen asking, "What financing?" according to the recording. When Cohen tells Trump, "We'll have to pay." Trump is heard saying "pay with cash" but the audio is muddled and it's unclear whether he suggests paying with cash or not paying. Cohen says, "no, no, no" but it is not clear what is said next.
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While Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani previously insisted Cohen suggested using cash to buy the story, Davis pointed to the audio as proof that it was Trump's suggestion all along. Davis is a columnist for The Hill.
Giuliani contested Davis's interpretation and released the Trump team's version of the transcript, which contradicts Davis. While Davis said Trump was suggesting the two pay cash, Giuliani's version of the transcript says Trump is saying, "Don't pay with cash...check."
Davis smiled when CNN anchor Chris Cuomo read him Giuliani's version of the transcript.
"Everybody heard just now Donald trump say the word 'cash,'" Davis said. "After Michael Cohen mentioned financing. When Mr. Giuliani ... accused my client, Mr. Cohen, of saying the word 'cash,' I said, 'Wait for the tapes.'"
"The tape contradicts Giuliani," Davis continued. "The only people who use cash are drug dealers and mobsters," he added.
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Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, denied that the audio proved that Trump was offering to pay in cash.
"Whoever is telling Davis that cash in that conversation refers to green currency is lying to him," Futerfas told CNN.
"There's no transaction done in green currency. It doesn't happen. The whole deal never happened. If it was going to happen, it would be a payment to a large company that would obviously be accompanied by an agreement of sale. Those documents would be prepared by lawyers on both sides."
Throughout the interview, Davis painted Cohen as a victim of attacks by Trump, Giuliani and their allies.
He said Cohen is ready to "turn a new corner" and tell the truth about what transpired between himself and the president.
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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 was Trump's longtime personal lawyer and fixer; however, he has sought to distance himself from the president in recent weeks, fueling speculation that Cohen could flip on Trump.
By burying Ms. McDougal’s story during the campaign in a practice known in the tabloid industry as “catch and kill,” A.M.I. protected Mr. Trump from negative publicity that could have harmed his election chances, spending money to do so.
The authorities believe that the company was not always operating in what campaign finance law calls a “legitimate press function,” according to the people briefed on the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. That may explain why prosecutors did not follow typical Justice Department protocol to avoid subpoenaing news organizations when possible, and to give journalists advance warning when demanding documents or other information. -New York Times
While Trump never paid for the rights, Lanny Davis says that the recording, made in 2016, shows Trump knew about the payment.
On Saturday, President Trump broke his silence over the recording, tweeting: "Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) - almost unheard of. Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client - totally unheard of & perhaps illegal. The good news is that your favorite President did nothing wrong!" Trump tweeted.
Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) - almost unheard of. Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client - totally unheard of & perhaps illegal. The good news is that your favorite President did nothing wrong!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 21, 2018
The release of the tape has sparked a widespread debate about the sanctity of attorney-client privilege, and its use in "one-party" consent states.
Gonna be HELLA interesting legal argument related to matter involving attorney Michael Cohen’s secretly taping conversations w/client Donald Trump.— James A. Gagliano (@JamesAGagliano) July 20, 2018
Here’s where attorney-client privilege collides violently with NYS being one-party consent state, related to taping communications.
Meanwhile, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani confirmed with the New York Times last week that Trump and Cohen had discussed payments - and that "there was no indication on the tape that Mr. Trump knew before the conversation about the payment from the Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., to Ms. McDougal."
"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.
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 - whose husband just filed for divorce, 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."