Michael Cohen secretly recorded a 2016 conversation in which he and President Trump discussed paying hush money to a former Playboy model who claims she slept with Trump, the New York Times reported Friday. The FBI is in possession of the recording.
Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, confirmed that the taped conversation about the payments to Karen McDougal occurred. Giuliani told the Times that the brief recording contained no suggestion that Trump has “any knowledge of it in advance” and said it was actually “powerful exculpatory evidence.”
Giuliani also said that the recording is interrupted twice because “someone brings soda in for them,” suggesting the conversation happened in person rather than over the phone.
The Times reported that the conversation reportedly focused on the $150,000 that the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., gave to McDougal to “catch and kill” her story about her alleged yearlong 2006 affair with Trump, as well as an additional payment that Cohen planned to make directly to McDougal.
Maggie Haberman, one of the Times reporters who broke the story, said on CNN that Giuliani was trying to argue that Trump instructed Cohen to send the money by check “so that it was done properly, as opposed to cash,” which would not be traceable. That additional payment was never actually sent, Haberman said.
The Washington Post subsequently published a notably different account by a “person familiar with the recording.” That individual said that the pair discussed a plan for Cohen to try to purchase the rights to McDougal’s story from AMI for $150,000.
These differing accounts leave it not yet clear whether Trump and Cohen discussed sending an additional payment to McDougal, or instead reimbursing AMI the $150,000 it spent on McDougal’s story in order to take control of her rights.
The recording was among the huge trove of materials that the FBI seized from Cohen’s Manhattan office in an April raid. Cohen is under criminal investigation in New York for a host of financial dealings, including the payments he doled out during the 2016 campaign to silence women who claimed to have had sexual relationships with Trump.
Those payments could violate federal finance laws.
“Three people briefed on the matter” told the Times that Cohen’s lawyers discovered the recording when reviewing the seized materials for anything covered by attorney-client privilege, and shared it with Trump’s attorneys.
Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis told the Times he had “nothing to say on this matter.”
Later Friday afternoon, Davis sent a tweet saying the recording “will not hurt” Cohen.
Obviously, there is an ongoing investigation, and we are sensitive to that. But suffice it to say that when the recording is heard, it will not hurt @MichaelCohen212. Any attempt at spin can not change what is on the tape.
— Lanny Davis (@LannyDavis) July 20, 2018
The story of McDougal’s alleged affair with Trump came to light in March, when the former Playboy model sued AMI for an alleged breach of contract. McDougal said she sold the story of her affair to the tabloid, but that the publication, which is owned by Trump’s friend David Pecker, declined to publish it to protect Trump.
Former adult film star Stormy Daniels also received funds from Trump, via Cohen, to keep her silent about her own alleged affair with the president.
Rumors about Cohen’s habit of recording phone conversations first circulated when the FBI raided his office, apartment and hotel room in April. Friday’s revelation leaves open the possibility that the feds may have seized recordings of other conversations between Cohen and Trump.
This post has been updated.