Michael Cohen

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Report: Cohen Secretly Recorded Trump Talking Of Paying Playboy Model

July 20, 2018 - 12:48 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880/CBS News/AP) — Two months before the November 2016 election, longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen secretly recorded a conversation with then-candidate Donald Trump about payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, the New York Times reported Friday.

McDougal alleges she had a roughly year-long relationship with the real estate mogul in 2006, which CBS News correspondet Bill Rehkopf explained would have been right after he married Melania Trump and shortly after the birth of their son, Barron.

The Times cited lawyers and others familiar with the recording. 

That recording, according to the Times, was seized by the FBI when it raided Cohen's office in April, as a part of federal investigators' probe into Cohen's business dealings. The Times said Cohen's lawyers became aware of the tape when they reviewed evidence collected by investigators, and Cohen's lawyers shared the recording with Trump's lawyers.

McDougal accepted $150,000 from American Media Inc. (AMI), the parent company of tabloids including the National Enquirer. She sold her story with the expectation that she would write for the Enquirer, but AMI didn't publish the story, a process sometimes called "catch and kill."

"There's some question about what the campaign was doing in the days before the election and so when we talk about the idea of American Media spiking or sitting on the story in August of 2016 there's some talk that perhaps that the head of American Media was a fan of Donald Trump, a friend of Donald Trump's and so the question arises was he intentionally sitting on the story so that his friend -- the presidential candidate, the GOP nominee -- would not be embarassed in the months before the campaign," said CBS News correspondent Bill Rehkopf.

Justice Department investigators, as CBS News has reported, are interested in payments made to women who claim they had a relationship with Trump to determine if there were any campaign finance violations. 

“We are always dealing with the specter of the Federal Election Commission, or FEC, for them to look at any contributions that may have been made by Michael Cohen, or (AMI chief executive officer) David Pecker, or anyone else that would look like an in-kind campaign contribution having to do with President Trump’s campaign," said CBS News Legal Analyst Rikki Klieman.

The report of the recorded conversation comes amid questions of whether Cohen will cooperate with federal investigators as a part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling and ties to Trump associates. Cohen, as CBS News' Jeff Pegues has reported, has been under a great deal of pressure to cooperate. According to Trump, Cohen is no longer his personal lawyer.

CBS News has reached out to the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and to Cohen's lawyer.

In a phone conversation with the Times, Giuliani confirmed Trump had discussed payments with Cohen on the tape, but claimed the payment was ultimately never made. 

"Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance," said Giuliani, who told the Times that Trump had directed Cohen that if he made a payment related to the woman, he should write a check instead of sending cash to document the transaction. 

"In the big scheme of things, it's powerful exculpatory evidence," Giuliani also told the Times. 

Payments to women have become a topic the White House and Trump's lawyers have had to address in recent months. In May, Giuliani revealed on Fox News that Trump repaid Cohen for a $130,000 payment Cohen made to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the election in 2016. Giuliani insisted that there was no campaign finance violation in that instance.

Cohen hasn't responded to text and email messages seeking comment about the latest report. His lawyer Lanny Davis declined to comment to the Times.

But a White House spokesperson said in a February statement that Trump denies having had an affair with McDougal. 

"This is an old story that is just more fake news," the spokesperson said at the time. "The President says he never had a relationship with McDougal."

(© 2018 WCBS 880. CBS News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)