Donald Trump appears to have been caught on tape during the presidential campaign discussing the logistics of making payments aimed at keeping quiet allegations from a former Playboy model that she had an affair with Trump, according to an audio tape released by an attorney representing Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer.
The nearly three-minute audio recording was provided to CNN by Lanny Davis, a lawyer who is representing Cohen. The audio is choppy and difficult to hear at times, and several key sections are open to interpretation.
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But it appears to show Cohen talking to Trump about plans to buy the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story by setting up a company and transferring money to American Media, which publishes the National Enquirer. McDougal has alleged that she had a 10-month affair with Trump, beginning in 2006 and ending in 2007.
If accurate, the audio confirms that Trump knew about the possibility of payments during the presidential campaign. Rudy Giuliani, the president’s current lawyer, has denied that any payments were made from Trump.
“I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David,” Cohen at one point tells Trump on the tape, a likely reference to David Pecker, the chairman and CEO of American Media.
Cohen adds that he’s spoken to Allen Weisselberg, a Trump Organization executive, about how to set up the company.
Later in the conversation, when Cohen mentions “financing” and that he has to “pay him something,” Trump, for a moment seems confused. “Wait a sec, what financing?” Trump asks. “Well, I’ll have to pay him something,” Cohen responds.
The president’s next words are in dispute. It’s unclear whether he says “Pay with cash” or “Don’t pay with cash.”
Davis, appearing on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time,” said: “What is this about? This is about honesty versus false disparagement of Michael Cohen. Why is Giuliani out falsely disparaging Michael Cohen? Because they fear him.
“What do they fear, Chris? Why am I representing him? They fear that he has the truth about Donald Trump. He will someday speak the truth about Donald Trump. The truth is that when Donald Trump said ‘cash,’ which Rudy Giuliani knows that only drug dealers and mobsters talk about cash, it was, you heard Michael Cohen … say what? ‘No, no, no, no.’”
Davis later added: “Ladies and gentlemen, if you voted for Donald Trump, listen to the tape and ask yourself: Is Donald Trump lying when he said he didn’t use the word ‘cash’ and accuses Michael Cohen of using the word ‘cash’? Cohen has been disparaged. Cohen has been insulted and called all sorts of things by people around Donald Trump.”
“This man has come to a moment in his life,” Davis said of his client. “This man has turned a corner in his life, has hit a reset button, and he’s now dedicated to telling the truth.”
The president’s legal team provided CNN and other news outlets, including POLITICO, with a transcript of the audio recording. According to that transcript, Trump said, “Don’t pay with cash,” later mentioning a “check.”
“The transcript that we provided CNN accurately reflects the taped conversation,” Giuliani said in a statement. Trump’s legal team declined further comment beyond the Giuliani statement. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Giuliani last week confirmed the existence of the tape, which Cohen secretly recorded.
Cohen, a longtime Trump backer, worked for Trump for about a dozen years. But he is caught up in an investigation involving his business dealings by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, and he recently signaled his willingness to cooperate with authorities in a major blow to Trump.
The FBI raided Cohen’s office, apartment and hotel room in early April in connection with the federal investigation into potential wire fraud and campaign finance violations.
Appearing Tuesday night on Fox News, Giuliani confirmed the authenticity of the tape and said the Trump legal team had gone through it about five times over the weekend.
Explaining what’s heard, Giuliani said that Trump “did not know about this before the conversation, at least with regard to the transactions that were done. He may or may not have known about McDougal’s claim. He didn’t know about this transaction.”
Giuliani also insisted that the tape wouldn’t put Trump in legal jeopardy.
“The other thing that is absurd about this, what it makes clear is, this is at most an attempt to do something,” he said. “I don’t know of any attempt in this category of crime that they’re looking at.
“I don’t think anyone can suggest that this represents anything where the president did anything wrong. That’s the reason why we waived it. Would we have put it out had it not been leaked? No, we’d have not put it out had it not been leaked.”
Giuliani said The New York Times was preparing an article about the leaked tape “with false statements being made, which are even worse than the ones you’re hearing now.”
The Trump lawyers learned that CNN had a copy of the tape at 6 p.m. Tuesday, he said.
“What I urge people to do is just go online, listen to your broadcast, you play the tape, play it three times, the third time you play it it will become clear,” Giuliani said.
“I’ve vetted tapes even longer than Alan Dershowitz,” Giuliani said. “How about 4,000 hours of Mafia people on tape? I know how to listen to them. I know how to transcribe them. This tape is crystal clear when you listen to. I’ve dealt with much worse tapes than this.”
Giuliani also addressed a recent court filing showing that federal prosecutors have obtained a dozen audio recordings from its April raid on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room. He said no other tape had Trump on it.
“We have all the tapes in our possession,” Giuliani said. “We have transcripts of all of them. We’re comfortable with them. And there are no others.”
Giuliani also slammed Cohen’s lawyer, Davis, on Fox for making categorical claims about what the audiotape says.
“I question the strategy of doing this and trying to make a tape say what it doesn’t say,” the president’s lawyer said. “Or of putting out a tape in which you’re kind of proud of the fact you’re a lawyer taping your client and then thinking you can cooperate with the government.”
“You know, to cooperate with the government you’ve got to have credibility,” Giuliani added. “First thing that happens is this guy is going to be disbarred. It’s ridiculous. He’s a pariah to the legal profession.”
Laura Ingraham, the Fox host, then played a clip of Davis on CNN earlier Tuesday in which he sidestepped a question about why Cohen was taping his client in the first place. In that interview, Davis refers the question back to Cohen.
“When have I ever said it’s up to the president to explain?” he told Ingraham. “That’s his lawyer being interviewed by Cuomo and he throws the ball to his client? This is crazy representation. Have you ever heard of anything like this? You put out a tape of your client. You then make believe it says something it doesn’t say. Believe me, there were three other versions of this, before we got to this one, that were even worse.”
Davis’s appearance on CNN also didn’t go over well with Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, the adult-film actress who is suing the president and Cohen in order to be released from a nondisclosure agreement related to an alleged affair with the president.
“My B.S. detector is off the chart right now as to what’s going on here,” Avenatti said during an appearance on MSNBC’s “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” on Tuesday night. “Michael Cohen could have issued a written statement, even if he didn’t want to go on television about what happened here. Where are the rest of the tapes? Where’s the rest of the evidence? You don’t get to claim love of country and being a patriot unless you do the right thing. And he’s not doing the right thing.”
Asked to size up Davis’s recent efforts on Cohen’s behalf, Avenatti replied: “I think he’s trying to push the reset button related to his client’s reputation among the American people. I think he’s trying to paint his client as a victim, and as a guy that’s adverse to President Trump and really was just along for the ride and wasn’t at the center of this.”
“That’s laughable,” Avenatti added, noting Cohen’s comments at the beginning of the tape praising then-candidate Trump for a “great poll.”
“Look at all the comments that Michael Cohen made about Donald Trump after this telephone call in 2016,” Avenatti said. “Look at all the comments that Michael Cohen made through his other lawyers at the very beginning of our case where he was a staunch defender of Michael Cohen month after month, week after week. The only reason Michael Cohen has supposedly found religion, if you will, at this point is because he realizes that he’s about to be indicted for some very serious offenses and he’s trying to push the reset button.”