Trump Appeared to Know About Payment for Playboy Model’s Story, Released Cohen Tape Reveals - NBC Southern California
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Trump Appeared to Know About Payment for Playboy Model’s Story, Released Cohen Tape Reveals

Michael Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis, released the recording to CNN, which aired it Tuesday night

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    2016 Recording of Trump and Cohen Released

    A recording appears to show that President Donald Trump knew about a proposal to silence a Playboy model before she could speak out about her alleged affair with him.

    (Published Tuesday, July 24, 2018)

    Two months before the 2016 election, Donald Trump and his former lawyer discussed plans to pay for a former Playboy model's story of an alleged affair, according to a secretly recorded tape of the conversation released Tuesday amid an escalating feud between the president and his longtime personal attorney.

    The audio recording, surreptitiously made by Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, appears to contradict the Trump campaign's later claim that Trump knew nothing about payments to a media company to keep model Karen McDougal's story from becoming public. The tape captures the soon-to-be president and his lawyer discussing logistics of financing and whether to "pay with cash," although the sound is muffled and Trump's instructions on that are unclear. Lawyers for the two men disputed what was said.

    The tape was provided to CNN on Tuesday by Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis, and signals a new level of open hostility between the president and the man who once described himself as Trump's fixer. Cohen, who is under federal investigation for potential bank fraud and campaign finance violations, has shown a growing willingness to reveal damaging information and Davis said Tuesday that Cohen "will someday speak the truth about Donald Trump."

    The taped conversation between Trump and Cohen came weeks after the National Enquirer's parent company reached a $150,000 deal to pay McDougal for her story of a 2006 affair, which it never published, a tabloid practice known as catch and kill.

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    The men appear to be discussing buying the rights to McDougal's story from the Enquirer's parent company. Trump's lawyers say the payments were never made.

    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 attacked Cohen in a tweet Wednesday morning, calling it "so sad" that a lawyer would tape a client and questioning what was cut from the recording released on Tuesday.

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    "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 said.

    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.

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

    But Davis told NBC News and CNN that the tape also shows that Trump knew about McDougal's allegation before he publicly acknowledged it when McDougal's allegation was revealed in a Wall Street Journal story days before the election. At the time, a Trump spokeswoman said his campaign had "no knowledge of any of this."

    "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.

    But Davis told NBC News and CNN that the tape also shows that Trump knew about McDougal's allegation before he publicly acknowledged it when McDougal's allegation was revealed in a Wall Street Journal story days before the election. At the time, a Trump spokeswoman said his campaign had "no knowledge of any of this."

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    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."

    The FBI raided Cohen's office, home and hotel room in April, searching in part for information about payments to McDougal and porn actress Stormy 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.

    Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.

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    (Published Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018)