Just days before the 2016 presidential election, The Wall Street Journal broke news that the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc. (AMI), had purchased the rights to the story of a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, who claimed she had an affair with Donald Trump. The Enquirer then killed the story, shielding Trump from the potential fallout of McDougal’s claims.
At the time, the Journal reached out to Trump’s camp for comment on the matter. Then-Trump campaign spokesman Hope Hicks denied the affair occurred and claimed the Trump campaign was completely unaware of McDougal’s dealings with AMI.
“We have no knowledge of any of this,” Hicks told the Journal.
On Monday evening, CNN published proof that Hicks’ claim was a brazen lie. The network obtained and played an audio recording of a September 2016 discussion between Trump and his longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, about a plan to purchase rights for McDougal’s story from AMI.
The recording — which was made by Cohen and seized during a recent FBI raid of his home and offices — is somewhat inconclusive at points. But one thing is clear: Trump and Cohen appear to be discussing a subject they’re familiar with. Trump was not surprised when Cohen brought up a plan to make payments related to McDougal, effectively silencing her story ahead of the election.
“So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?” Trump can be heard saying.
Trump can also be heard using the word “cash” in the context of possible payments to AMI for McDougal’s story.
Here, via the Washington Post, is the transcript of that part of the recording:
COHEN: When it comes time for the financing, which will be —
TRUMP: Wait a sec, what financing?
COHEN: Well, I’ll have to pay him something.
TRUMP: [UNINTELLIGIBLE] pay with cash …
COHEN: No, no, no, no, no. I got it.
TRUMP: … check.
During an interview on CNN, Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, urged people to “listen to the tape” to determine whether they believe this was the first time Trump had ever heard of the McDougal payments. “This is not a man shocked when Mr. Cohen said, ‘we have to make payments,'” Davis said in reference to Trump.
“We know that Trump has lied, even during the campaign when his spokesman denied two months after this tape that he know anything about McDougal,” he continued, alluding to the Journal’s report. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you voted for Trump, listen to the tape and ask yourself, is Donald Trump lying?”
Trump’s camp has shifted its story about the McDougal payments over time. Now, they don’t dispute that Hicks lied in her statement to the Journal. Instead, they dispute that Trump can be heard suggesting cash payments on the recording.
Trump’s legal team released their own transcript of the tape in an attempt to make this case. According to Rudy Giuliani and company, even though Trump can’t definitively be heard saying these words on the recording, he supposedly actually told Cohen, “Don’t pay with cash… check.”
In response to team Trump’s alternative transcript, Davis urged the American public, “Don’t believe fake transcripts… the only people who use cash are drug dealers and mobsters.”
Nonetheless, the president’s favorite show, Fox & Friends, on Wednesday morning represented Trump’s version of the transcript as the final word on the matter.
.@foxandfriends is treating team Trump's transcript of Cohen tape — a transcript at odds with what it sounds like Trump actually said — as if it's the gospel truth.
(It doesn't sound like Trump says, ""Don't pay with cash." Instead, it sounds like he suggests paying cash.) pic.twitter.com/T8rYVpoUPW
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 25, 2018
Team Trump starting pushing an alternative transcript of the Cohen tape just hours after Trump urged his supporters during a speech in Kansas City to disregard what they see and hear — and simply believe what he tells them.
“Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news,” Trump said, pointing at reporters as the crowd broke out in boos. “Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
Regardless of the dispute over what exactly Trump can be heard saying on the Cohen tape, the fact remains that the Trump campaign pushed a brazen lie about Trump’s knowledge of payments to McDougal at a critical time in the campaign, while he was reeling from a string of sexual assault allegations.
Instead of engaging with that reality, however, Trump’s first public comment about the situation on Wednesday was an attempt to shift blame to Cohen for recording the conversation in the first place.
What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So sad! Is this a first, never heard of it before? Why was the tape so abruptly terminated (cut) while I was presumably saying positive things? I hear there are other clients and many reporters that are taped – can this be so? Too bad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2018
Trump, of course, once infamously boasted that he only hires the best people.