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Michael Cohen's lawyer reveals secret tape of Trump discussing payment involving ex-Playmate

An audio recording makes it clear that Trump was aware of a model's allegation of an affair and a plan to buy her silence.
by Phil Helsel and Katy Tur /  / Updated 

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Michael Cohen's attorney says a secretly recorded conversation in 2016 shows Donald Trump mentioning "cash" in relation to a possible payment involving a former Playboy model who alleges she had a year-long affair with Trump.

Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, released the recording to CNN, which aired it Tuesday night. The audio recording, which was made by Cohen and is difficult to hear at times, comes after The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported on the existence of the recording last week.

Made two months before the presidential election, the tape appears to show Cohen, who was Trump's personal attorney at the time, discussing "how to set the whole thing up with funding." At one point, Trump appears to ask "what financing?" and seems to ask "pay with cash?"

Cohen appears to then say "No, no, no, no, no, no, I got ..." before Trump is heard saying, or asking, "check," and then the recording abruptly ends. Although the exact wording on the tape is unclear at times, it does make it clear that Trump was aware of the model's allegation of the affair and the plans to pay to ensure her silence.

The Journal reported on Friday that the conversation took place in September 2016, shortly before the election and a month after American Media Inc., the publisher of The National Enquirer, had purchased the rights to ex-Playmate Karen McDougal's story of the alleged extramarital affair 10 years earlier with the future president. Trump has denied any affair.

Davis' release of the audio recording to CNN suggests an aggressive move by Cohen, Trump's former "fixer," who is under federal investigation. Davis, in fact, said the recording shows Trump discussing whether to pay "hush money" to McDougal, and suggested in an interview that Cohen has more damaging information on Trump.

Image: Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen, then President Donald Trump's personal attorney, leaves U.S. District Court in New York on April 16.Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / AFP -- Getty Images file

Cohen also made a payment shortly before the election of $130,000 to another woman, adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who alleged a past one-night affair with Trump.

In the recording aired by CNN, Cohen appears to say at one point, "I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David," which CNN reported was probably a reference to David Pecker, chairman and chief executive of American Media.

Pecker, a friend of Trump's, had paid McDougal for the rights to her story, but the Enquirer never published an article, a supermarket tabloid industry practice known as "catch and kill," which is intended to bury a story by allowing no other media organization to have it. On the tape, Trump and Cohen appear to talk about acquiring the rights to McDougal's story themselves in case something happens to Pecker, like being hit by a bus, which Trump suggests on the tape. It is believed Trump never made any payment to do so.

In an interview, Davis said Trump wasn't surprised by McDougal's allegation or the need to arrange some kind of payment to her.

"Donald Trump said when this discussion began, he publicly described the tape as the first time he knew about the McDougal situation," Davis said. "You can't listen to the tape without saying he knew exactly what Cohen was talking about."

Davis suggested on CNN that Trump's attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, had earlier misrepresented the recording by saying it was Trump who insisted that they not use cash.

Giuliani provided his own transcript of the conversation to CNN in which it was indicated that Trump told Cohen, "Don't pay with cash ... check."

"The transcript that we provided CNN accurately reflects the taped conversation," Giuliani said in a statement on the CNN report.

Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, said the use of the word "cash" didn't mean paper money.

"When the word 'cash' is used, it's in opposition to financing," Futerfas said. "It's like when you're buying a house and a person says — are you going to get financing or are you paying cash? It's identical context — no one expects or understands you're showing up to the closing with green currency."

The recording was seized in April when the FBI raided Cohen's office and hotel rooms, The Times reported, citing lawyers and others familiar with the recording.

Giuliani told Fox News on Tuesday night said that "the tape is a little bit hard to hear, but I assure you that we listened to it numerous, numerous times."

He said in a phone interview with NBC News after the tape aired that "the president clearly says: 'not cash' and Cohen says: 'no, no, no,' and then the president says: 'check.'" Giuliani said, "It shows the president wanted it done in a way that was memorialized."

"The big takeaway is Cohen is taping is client, which is disastrous for a lawyer. You might as well forget being a lawyer," Giuliani said. "The second big takeaway is it indicates there was nothing criminal about this because they decide to do it through a corporation and by check."

"And by the way, the transaction never occurs,” Giuliani added.

Trump responded to the revelation Wednesday morning, slamming the recording as "so sad."

"What kind of lawyer would tape a client? So sad! Is this a first, never heard of it before?" Trump tweeted.

But Davis told NBC News: "Let's not forget what the big picture is and not get caught up in what Trump and Giuliani want us to do, which is to get diverted by those very questions: the idiocy of 'cash doesn't mean money,' or 'he meant something else other than cash.'

"For example this tape, you could say, is a discussion about hush money," Davis said. "It's a discussion about paying money to control adverse information that might come out before an election."

Davis said Cohen had decided, "no matter what happens to me, I'm going to get my life back by telling the truth."

"Cohen is trying to reset his life as not being Donald Trump's bullet taker, or worse, a punching bag for Donald Trump's defense strategy where he takes the bullets," Davis said. "This is a turn for him. It's a new resolve to tell the truth no matter what, even if it endangers him.

"He has more truth to tell," Davis said. "It's unclear the impact of that truth but he has more to tell."

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