Giuliani says Cohen recorded Trump discussing payments to former Playboy model
Michael Cohen, the longtime lawyer of President Donald Trump, secretly recorded a 2016 conversation between the pair about payments to a former Playboy model, Rudy Giuliani confirmed to the New York Times on Friday.
The conversation took place two months before the presidential election, the Times reported. FBI officials, who are investigating Cohen’s role in providing hush payments to women who claim they had affairs with Trump, took the recording into custody during a raid on the lawyer’s office and residence.
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Not only was the payment discussed never made, but Trump had no prior knowledge of it, Giuliani said.
“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance,” Giuliani told the Times. “In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence.”
He added that, in the two-minute recording, Trump told Cohen to write a check, so that the payment to the former model would be documented.
The woman, Karen McDougal, has alleged she and Trump had a 10-month affair, beginning in 2006 and ending in 2007.
American Media Inc. reportedly paid her $150,000 for exclusive rights to her story before declining to publish it; McDougal has said the deal was an elaborate effort by Cohen to keep her from going on the record.
The revelation is the most recent in a string of developments illustrating the potential legal and political risks that Cohen poses to Trump. Caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation and a separate probe involving his business dealings by the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York, the former Trump Organization executive has signaled his willingness to cooperate with authorities, telling ABC News in July that he plans to “put family and country first.”
Cohen’s interest in speaking up publicly about his time representing the president continued Friday morning, when the Rev. Al Sharpton posted on Twitter that he’d recently spent an hour with Cohen. “I bet you’re wondering what we could be talking about! Stay tuned,” Sharpton, who hosts a Sunday morning MSNBC show, teased on social media.
Four minutes later, Cohen piggy-backed on Sharpton’s tweet, adding, “I have known Rev for almost 20 years. No one better to talk to!”
Cohen and his attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Addressing the New York Times’ report, a former federal prosecutor from New York’s southern district said it was “incredibly bizarre” and “certainly unethical” that Cohen taped conversations between himself and his clients. It could ultimately lead to disciplinary action for Cohen, although that threat pales in comparison to the other legal risks he’s facing.
The former prosecutor also dismissed Giuliani’s claim that Trump wouldn’t be in trouble because he talked on the tape about paying McDougal by check rather than cash.
“The fact that something was paid by check is not exculpatory in the slightest,” the former prosecutor said. “The federal prisons are full of people who thought, ‘I paid by check and therefore I’m not doing anything wrong.’ Whenever bad guys pay by check, they always have some false legitimate reason for why they’re paying that way.”
FBI agents 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. The authorities seized more than 12,500 pages of paper records and obtained hundreds more pages of messages and cell phone logs from phones and a Blackberry — communications that remain at the center of a special judicial review to sort through potential attorney-client privilege issues. The FBI’s move also ignited Trump’s ire as he’s taken a more aggressive public stand against the Mueller investigation.