- Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, secretly recorded a conversation during which he and Trump discussed payments to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who says she had an affair with Trump, The New York Times reported Friday.
- The conversation reportedly took place in September 2016, two months before the election.
- Cohen is the focus of an investigation into whether he committed bank fraud or wire fraud or violated campaign-finance laws.
- Trump’s potential knowledge of the payments raises new questions about his role in quashing negative stories about him ahead of the election.
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, secretly recorded a conversation with Trump in September 2016 in which they discussed payments to a former Playboy model who says she had an affair with Trump, The New York Times reported Friday.
The report says the recording was among several the FBI seized in April when it raided Cohen’s properties in New York. Cohen’s attorneys are said to have discovered it while going through the trove of seized documents and records as part of a privilege review. They shared the recording with Trump’s lawyers as well, The Times reported, citing three people briefed on the matter.
Cohen is the focus of a criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York into whether he violated campaign-finance laws, committed bank fraud or wire fraud, engaged in illegal lobbying, or participated in other crimes. The FBI seized more than 4 million documents in those April raids.
The woman at the center of this payment is Karen McDougal, whom the National Enquirer paid $US150,000 in August 2016 for the rights to her story.
But the outlet never published the piece. That practice is known as “catch and kill,” and it effectively silenced McDougal about her allegations of a 2006 affair with Trump. Federal investigators had sought documents related to that payment and similar payments to other women in the raids.
David Pecker, the head of American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, is a longtime friend of both Trump’s and Cohen’s. Citing a person familiar with the recording, The Washington Post reported Friday that in it, Cohen and Trump discussed a plan to purchase the rights to McDougal’s story from Pecker’s company for about $US150,000.
Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani confirmed to The Times that Trump discussed payments to McDougal with Cohen, but he said that ultimately no payment was made.
“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance,” Giuliani told the newspaper of American Media Inc.’s payment. Giuliani added that Trump told Cohen that if he did pay McDougal, it should be in the form of a check instead of cash so that it could be properly recorded, The Times said.
“In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence,” Giuliani said.
Experts in election law say that if Cohen engaged in such activity to protect Trump’s candidacy, it would most likely violate campaign-finance law.
Cohen is also under scrutiny for a $US130,000 payment he made in October 2016 to the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, to stay silent about her allegation of a 2006 affair with the president. Trump has denied that an affair took place. Originally, Cohen said Trump did not reimburse him for the payment. In May, Trump acknowledged that he had.
In recent weeks, Cohen has dramatically split with Trump. During an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos revealed earlier this month, Cohen said his family “and this country” have his “first loyalty.”
In June, Cohen hired Guy Petrillo, a veteran prosecutor who previously worked for the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York. Legal experts told Business Insider that Petrillo is a person one would hire if they were considering cooperating with the government. More recently, Cohen brought on Lanny Davis, a Washington lawyer and public-relations consultant who worked for President Bill Clinton amid the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
On Thursday, Barbara Jones, the special master overseeing the document review in the Cohen investigation, ruled that more than 1,400 documents that Cohen, Trump, or the Trump Organisation labelled as privileged were not. Cohen opted against challenging that decision in court, Jones wrote in a filing, meaning those documents will be turned over to prosecutors for use in a potential prosecution of Cohen.
Soon after The Times published its article on Friday, CNN reported that there were other recordings seized by the FBI of Cohen and “powerful” people, citing a source familiar with the tapes.
Citing another source familiar with the tapes, CNN also reported that Trump, when informed about the September 2016 tape, said, “I can’t believe Michael would do this to me.”
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