- Former federal prosecutors zeroed in on one thingPresident Donald Trump said during the secretly recorded September 2016 conversation with his former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen.
- It was Trump’s reference to how much it would cost to purchase the rights to the story of a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, who says she had an affair with Trump years ago.
- It matches the amount American Media Inc. paid to purchase those rights one month prior.
- The former prosecutors say the comment shows that Trump most likely knew details of the payment ahead of time.
Former federal prosecutors zeroed in on one thingPresident Donald Trump said during the secretly recorded conversation with his former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen in which they discuss a plan to buy the rights to the story of a former Playboy model who says she had an affair with the president years ago.
“So what do we got to pay for this?” Trump says to Cohen at one point when discussing a payment, which his attorney Rudy Giuliani has said was not ultimately made. “One-fifty?”
It’s that figure that former prosecutors say provides “strong evidence” that Trump was well aware of the National Enquirer’s arrangement with the Playboy model, Karen McDougal, ahead of his conversation with Cohen. Trump’s legal team has insisted that the conversation was the first time Trump had been made aware of it.
That figure, $US150,000, happens to be the amount the National Enquirer paid to buy the rights to McDougal’s story in August 2016. The publication never published the account. That practice is known as “catch and kill,” and it effectively silenced McDougal’s allegations.
On the September 2016 tape, which was provided to CNN this week by Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis, Cohen and Trump can be heard discussing a plan to purchase the rights to that story from the outlet’s publisher, American Media Inc., whose head, David Pecker, is a longtime friend of Trump.
Mitchell Epner, an attorney at Rottenberg Lipman Rich who was previously an assistant US attorney for the District of New Jersey, told Business Insider that the fact $US150,000 was the exact amount AMI paid for McDougal’s story “supports an inference that” Trump had prior knowledge of the arrangement.
“The fact that Donald Trump volunteered that the amount to be paid was $US150,000 is strong evidence that he was previously aware of the arrangement between Pecker/AMI and Karen McDougal,” Epner said in an email. “At a minimum, he and Michael Cohen had previously discussed that $US150,000 was the amount that would have to be paid to Pecker/AMI.”
Meanwhile, a person close to Davis told Business Insider that Cohen’s team was “forced” to release the tape to counter two comments Giuliani made, including that Trump did not know about the McDougal payment before Cohen brought it up in the conversation. The tape, this person said, made it seem clear that Trump was not being introduced to this subject for the first time.
Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor who’s now a partner at Thompson Coburn, told Business Insider that Trump’s reference to $US150,000 made it appear not only that he had prior knowledge of the transaction, but that he had familiarity with similar types of expenditures in the past.
“He can’t say he didn’t know about the transaction,” Mariotti said. “He has to own the fact that he had his fingers in these transactions, that he was actively involved.”
Giuliani told The Wall Street Journal that nothing on the tape definitively proved Trump knew of the McDougal deal with AMI before that conversation with Cohen.
“I’m not saying there’s anything here where he says, ‘I’m surprised, I never heard about this before,'” Giuliani said. “But there’s nothing here where he says, ‘I did know about it.'”
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