A statement by the Trump campaign, just before the 2016 election, that it was unaware of payments to a Playboy model claiming to have had an affair with Donald Trump was blown up Friday with the revelation of a tape recording of a conversation between Trump and his attorney discussing paying the woman.
When the Wall Street Journal reported on November 4, 2016 that National Enquirer had sought to quiet the model, Karen McDougal, by buying the rights to her story and never running it, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks denied both Trump’s affair and his knowledge about the payments.
“We have no knowledge of any of this,” she told the paper.
But two months prior, Trump discussed potentially paying off McDougal with attorney Michael Cohen, his longtime fixer, in a secretly recorded the conversation. The tape was among the items seized by the FBI when it raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room, the New York Times reported Friday.
Trump’s current lawyer, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani confirmed to the Times that the payments were discussed — and said that Trump directed Cohen to write a check rather than use cash if he were to make them — but Giulani said the payment was never made.
Maggie Haberman, one of the New York Times reporters who broke the story, said on CNN that the payment from National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc. to McDougal was talked about on the early September call, and that Cohen and Trump also discussed potentially making an additional payment to the model.
There was relatively little attention paid to the initial Wall Street Journal story about McDougal at the start of Trump’s presidency, but the AMI payment made it back in the news when McDougal sought to fight in court for her right to discuss her affair allegations, as well as when the Journal reported a separate payment from Cohen to porn star who claimed to have slept with Trump.
The White House continued to deny Trump’s affair with McDougal, but over time pegged those denials to Trump himself.
“This is an old story that is just more fake news. The President says he never had a relationship with McDougal,” a White House spokeperson said in February New Yorker story about McDougal, in a statement that was reiterated for multiple stories about the model.
In March, McDougal in a lawsuit claimed that AMI “worked secretly with Mr. Trump’s personal ‘fixer’ and Ms. McDougal’s own lawyer to buy Ms. McDougal’s silence.”
Both Cohen and AMI denied the allegation, in the New York Times report about the lawsuit, as representative for Trump continued to deny the affair.