Donald Trump

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President Trump Recorded Discussing Payment For Playboy Model's Story

July 25, 2018 - 6:43 am
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LOS ANGELES (WCBS 880/AP) -- A secretly recorded tape of Donald Trump by his longtime personal lawyer was played on CNN Tuesday night in which the two can be heard talking about a potential payment for a Playboy model's story about an alleged affair and the soon-to-be president is heard discussing whether to "pay with cash."

The audio recording, surreptitiously made by Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen two months before the 2016 presidential election, was provided to CNN by Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis.

The conversation between Trump and Cohen came weeks after the National Enquirer's parent company reached a $150,000 deal to pay former Playboy model Karen McDougal for her story of a 2006 affair, which it never published, a tabloid practice known as catch and kill. Trump denies the affair ever happened and his campaign had said he knew nothing about the payment.

Trump and Cohen appear to be discussing buying the rights to McDougal's story from the Enquirer's parent company.

Cohen can be heard on the tape saying that he needed to start a company "for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David," a possible reference to David Pecker, Trump's friend and president of the National Enquirer's parent company, American Media Inc.

When Cohen begins to discuss financing, Trump interrupts him and asks, "What financing?"

"We'll have to pay," Cohen responded.

The audio is muffled, but Trump can be heard saying "pay with cash," though it isn't clear if he is suggesting to pay with cash or not to pay with cash. Cohen immediately says, "No, no, no" and Trump can then be heard saying, "check."

Trump's current attorney, Rudy Giuliani, told The Associated Press that he's had an expert enhance the recording and the president says "don't pay with cash."

"It clearly indicates that the president did not want to pay with cash. Suggesting otherwise is ridiculous and is inconsistent with the rest of the conversation, during which it was discussed doing it through a corporation," Giuliani said.

Giuliani said Cohen, as Trump's lawyer, thought it would be best if he could buy the rights to McDougal's story and the recording captures the two of them discussing how to do that.

"Cohen says I have to pay him. The president brings up cash and says don't pay with cash and says 'check,' He wants it memorialized," Giuliani said. "Cohen then says 'No, no, no, no' and he cuts off the tape. He obviously cuts it off in mid-sentence and that in itself is suspicious."

"The president wanted to do it the right way. If you wanted to hide something, you would not do it by corporation or check," he said.

The payment was never made and Giuliani said he didn't know why that was the case and hadn't discussed it with Trump.

"Listen to the tape. Donald Trump is not shocked money is being paid about someone named Karen McDougal," Davis said during an interview with CNN.

Davis said his client — who is under investigation by federal officials in New York — "has been disparaged and insulted and called all kinds of things."

"He's got truth on his side and he'll continue to tell the truth," Davis said.

Davis did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the AP on Tuesday night.

CBS News Legal Analyst Rikki Klieman explained that there is nothing legally questionable about paying for a nondisclosure agreement to keep something private that could be embarrassing. But the question is how the payment was accounted for.

“(The Enquirer) bought her story, then they killed it. So the question here is how should that have been accounted for, because obviously, Mr. Trump – then he was a candidate – and Mr. Cohen knew of that payment. So it’s an in-kind campaign contribution?” Klieman said. “It needed to be accounted for somewhere.”

As to the distinction of paying with cash versus a check, Klieman said the only difference is that an insistence on paying with cash “looks bad and sounds salacious.”

“What you have is that you do a check, that obviously is something that can be immediately accounted for. When you’re doing a cash payment, you don’t want it found out,” she said.

There is also a discussion on the tape of a third method of payment by setting up a dummy corporation, which is how Cohen paid porn actress Stormy Daniels, Klieman said.

“Either way, whether it’s cash or a dummy corporation, it still looks like you’re hiding the payment. And either way, if it’s an in-kind campaign contribution, if it’s not accounted for, it can be a crime,” she said.

Klieman also noted that it is not illegal to record someone surreptitiously in the State of New York, but it would be unethical for an attorney to do so with a client.

“One would say if he was acting in his capacity as a lawyer, rather than a fixer – and it’s always hard to tell if Michael Cohen is acting as a fixer or a lawyer – if he’s acting as a lawyer, you would think that you would tell your client you were taping them, so it does smack of something unethical,” she said.

But CBS News White House Correspondent Steven Portnoy said the greater issue for him was the fact that such a conversation between Trump and Cohen happened at all, and also that a rift has clearly developed between the two.

“The bigger story, from my standpoint, is that the GOP nominee at the time is heard on this tape to talk with his lawyer about buying a story from the National Enquirer in the weeks before the election, and another big takeaway is it’s clear now that the longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, no longer sees Donald Trump as a benefactor, but rather a legal adversary, and his lawyer says there’s more to come in all of this,” Portnoy said.

American Media, Inc.'s payment effectively silenced McDougal through the election, though days beforehand news of the deal emerged in The Wall Street Journal. At the time, a Trump spokeswoman said his campaign had "no knowledge of any of this."

Trump fired back on Twitter Wednesday, taking Cohen to task for taping him.

“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!” Trump tweeted.

The FBI raided Cohen's office, home and hotel room in April, searching in part for information about payments to McDougal and Daniels, who says she had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006 — which Trump denies — and was paid $130,000 as part of a non-disclosure agreement signed days before the 2016 election.

A dozen audio recordings seized during those raids were forwarded to federal prosecutors last week after lawyers dropped challenges on attorney-client privilege grounds.

Giuliani said those recordings captured Cohen discussing the president with third parties, who he would not identify. They are also being enhanced by experts, he said.

Trump and Cohen can also be heard on the recording released Tuesday discussing other legal issues, including fighting a request by The New York Times to unseal court records concerning Trump's divorce from his first wife, Ivana.

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