News broke Friday that the FBI possesses a recording, taped two months before the 2016 presidential election, between then-candidate Donald Trump and his lawyer at the time Michael Cohen, discussing payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
President Trump’s current attorney, Rudy Giuliani, stunningly claimed that the tape somehow helps Trump, perhaps forgetting that Trump has previously denied any knowledge of the payment.
“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance,” Giuliani told The New York Times. “In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence.”
The recording, according to people familiar with it, features Trump discussing a possible payment to either McDougal or American Media Inc. for her account of an alleged affair she had with Trump in the mid-2000s. AMI first paid McDougal $150,000 for her account in the months leading up to the 2016 election but never ran it, allegedly employing an industry practice known as “catch and kill” to bury the story. The Washington Post on Friday reported that Trump had considered purchasing the rights to that story from AMI but never completed the transaction.
The Times report, however, contradicts the Trump campaign’s own comments on the matter. Just days before the election, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks responded to a Wall Street Journal report about McDougal’s alleged affair with Trump, as well as reports she’d been paid not to talk about it, stating, “We have no knowledge of any of this.” She added that McDougal’s claims of an affair were “totally untrue.”
The White House has also denied any connection between McDougal and Trump. This past February, after The New Yorker published an in-depth report of Trump’s alleged affair with McDougal, a White House spokesperson said, “This is an old story that is just more fake news. The President says he never had a relationship with McDougal.”
Since assuming his role as Trump’s personal lawyer a few months ago, Giuliani’s defenses of the president’s actions have been rather free-wheeling, particularly when it has come to a hush payment Cohen made to another woman, adult film actress Stormy Daniels — who claims to have had an affair with Trump — in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election.
Initially, in the days after first being appointed to Trump’s legal team in mid-April, and shortly after the FBI raided Cohen’s home, hotel room, and office on a referral from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Giuliani made a number of televised appearances to defend the president, in an attempt to downplay the controversy. However, rather than clearing the air about the president’s alleged activity, Giuliani instead complicated things further.
Speaking with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on May 2, Giuliani appeared to go off-script, telling the host that Trump had actually reimbursed Cohen for the payment to Daniels.
Batting off suggestions that Trump may have violated campaign finance laws in paying Daniels ahead of the election, Giuliani insisted, “That money was not campaign money, sorry. I’m giving you a fact now that you don’t know. It’s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation.”
He then added, “[Cohen] funneled it through the law firm, and the president repaid him.” He said Trump “didn’t know about the specifics of it, as far as I know. But he did know the general arrangement, that Michael would take care of things like this, like I take care of things like this.”
Cohen initially stated he had made the payment to Daniels with his own money and that Trump had no knowledge of the transaction and had not repaid him. Trump, too, has said previously that he had no knowledge of the payment and did not reimburse Cohen.
Following that interview, Giuliani appeared to panic. He tried to reverse course, telling the Washington Post that Trump had reimbursed Cohen, but had only found out about the payment in recent weeks.
“I don’t know if he distinguished it from other things Cohen might have done for him during the campaign,” he said. “He trusted Michael, and Michael trusted him.”
He later went on a misogynistic rant against Daniels during an interview with CNN, suggesting Daniels had “no reputation” or credibility because she was a sex worker.
Despite those comments, Trump to threw Giuliani under the bus anyway, days later, claiming that “virtually everything that’s been said has been said incorrectly,” but “he will get his facts straight.”