News & Politics

NYT: Michael Cohen Tapes Seized by FBI Show Trump Discussing Paying Off Playboy Model

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal attorney, leaves federal court in New York, Thursday, April 26, 2018. . (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

In a story that is taking over social media and cable news, the New York Times reported on Friday that former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen, also called Trump’s “fixer,” handed over an audio recording he made of President Donald Trump discussing paying a Playboy model not to discuss their extramarital sexual affair.

President Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, secretly recorded a conversation with Mr. Trump two months before the presidential election in which they discussed payments to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump, according to lawyers and others familiar with the recording.

The F.B.I. seized the recording this year during a raid on Mr. Cohen’s office. The Justice Department is investigating Mr. Cohen’s involvement in paying women to tamp down embarrassing news stories about Mr. Trump ahead of the 2016 election. Prosecutors want to know whether that violated federal campaign finance laws, and any conversation with Mr. Trump about those payments would be of keen interest to them.

The existence of the tape, and the fact that it has been turned over to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is no longer in dispute. The president’s current personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, not only didn’t deny it, but confirmed and openly discussed the existence of the tape and the subject matter.

Speaking with the Times, Giuliani said, “Mr. Trump had discussed payments to [model Karen] McDougal with Mr. Cohen on the tape” and added that the recording “was less than two minutes long.”

Giuliani also told the NYT that “Mr. Trump did not know he was being recorded,” but stated that the tape actually proves the president is innocent of any crime in relation to the payoff.

Mr. Giuliani said there was no indication on the tape that Mr. Trump knew before the conversation about the payment from the Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., to Ms. McDougal.

“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance,” Mr. Giuliani said.

The men discussed a payment from Mr. Trump to Ms. McDougal — separate from the Enquirer payment — to buy her story and ensure her silence, Mr. Giuliani said. That payment was never made, Mr. Giuliani said, adding that Mr. Trump had told Mr. Cohen that if he were to make a payment related to the woman, to write a check rather than send cash, so it could be properly documented.

The existence of the payment and the affair, not to mention Giuliani discussing it, presents additional problems for the president going forward, and it is reported that his reaction was … not good.

“The president had no idea, that his long time lawyer and fixer was recording him, and that when the president found out about it, which I’m told was this week, his response was, ‘I can’t believe Michael would do this to me,’” [CNN’s Dana] Bash reported. “So as you can imagine, as somebody who felt that he had the most loyal of aides in Michael Cohen.”

The problem is not merely about character, but campaign finance. The tape reportedly shows that Trump and Cohen were discussing the payoff to model McDougal two months before the election and that the reason she was being paid off was to keep the story quiet while he ran for office. The fact that the funding for that payoff came by way of the National Enquirer buying the story and sitting on it — something the Times describes as the practice of “catch and kill” — makes it a question of campaign contributions and finance. (The two also discussed a separate payment from Trump himself, but that payment was never made, according to Giuliani.)

And, of course, it establishes a pattern, when taken with the Stormy Daniels case. It is into that pattern that investigators looking — allegations upon which it seems now that Michael Cohen is cooperating.

Thus ends the loyalty game — but not the story — and we’ll let you know if more develops.