Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, secretly taped a conversation he had with Trump regarding payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, in the months leading up to the 2016 election, according to The New York Times.
The report, which cites “lawyers and others familiar with the recording,” says the FBI seized the recording as part of its raid of Cohen’s residences and office earlier this year. That raid was instigated on a referral from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction by the president and his associates.
McDougal claims to have had a long-term affair with the president between 2006 and 2007, and says she was paid $150,000 for her account by American Media Inc. (AMI) — whose chairman is a friend of Trump’s — which buried the story before it could go public. McDougal and Cohen both stated he was kept in the loop about the AMI payment and lobbied on the president’s behalf.
According to the Washington Post, Trump allegedly discussed in the recording the idea of purchasing McDougal’s story from AMI, but never completed the transaction. The Times report, however, states Trump and Cohen were attempting to purchase the story from McDougal directly, but ultimately did not go through with it.
The Times notes that federal prosecutors are interested in finding out whether the payment, as well as payments Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who also claims to have had an affair with Trump, violated campaign finance laws. Both women were paid to keep quiet about their affairs, which could have hurt Trump’s reputation at the height of the 2016 election.
The payment to McDougal was first reported in November 2016 — days before the election — by the Wall Street Journal. At the time, then-campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks denied the report, stating the allegations were “totally untrue” and saying Trump “ha[d] no knowledge of any of this.”
On Friday, the president’s personal lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, confirmed the existence of the recording during a phone call with the Times. However, he was adamant the recording would ultimately prove Trump had done nothing wrong.
“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance. In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence,” he said. He claimed Trump had instructed Cohen to write McDougal a check so that the payment was documented, although he said the payment was ultimately never made.
Cohen’s lawyer declined to comment on the matter.
In the months following the April raid on Cohen’s home and office, Trump frequently defended the lawyer, calling the raid “an attack on our country,” and saying he belived Cohen would remain loyal to him, instead of cooperating with federal prosecutors.
“[The media] are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip,'” Trump tweeted in April. “…Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that […]!”
On Friday, however, the president reportedly appeared much less confident behind closed doors. “I can’t believe he would do this to me,” Trump reportedly said after the Times report was published, according to CNN’s Dana Bash and Gloria Borger.