Bombshell audio captures Trump and Cohen discussing hush money ‘catch and kill’ plot

Jurors heard Trump and his former ‘fixer’ hatching a plan to buy Karen McDougal’s silence in 2016

Alex Woodward
in Manhattan criminal court
Thursday 02 May 2024 23:00 BST
Trump and Cohen discuss hush money ‘catch and kill’ plot
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For the first time in Donald Trump’s hush money trial, jurors heard the former president’s own voice discussing a deal with his former attorney to buy the silence of a former Playboy model who alleged an affair with Mr Trump.

A portion of the recording – secretly recorded by Michael Cohen while Mr Trump was in the middle of his 2016 campaign for the presidency – was played inside a Manhattan courtroom on Thursday, giving the jury a brief but crucial look into how his “fixer” kept his boss up to date with a scheme that is now central to the criminal case against him.

“I need to open up a company for the transfer of all that info regarding our friend, David, you know, so that – I’m going to do that right away,” Cohen can be heard saying on the recording.

“And I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” Cohen says, referencing the now-convicted former chief financial officer for the Trump Organization.

“So, what do we got to pay for this?” Mr Trump can be heard saying. “150?”

That “David” appears to be David Pecker, the former National Enquirer publisher.

In his trial testimony, Mr Pecker admitted to an agreement with Cohen and Mr Trump in August 2015 to buy the rights to politically compromising stories about Mr Trump’s affairs – with no intention of publishing them, a practice known as “catch and kill.”

Two months before Election Day, under Cohen’s direction, Mr Pecker arranged a payment of $150,000 to Karen McDougal, the former model who alleged a 10-month-long affair with Mr Trump a decade earlier.

Mr Pecker was never reimbursed, he told the court.

Donald Trump speaks to reporters outside a criminal courtroom in Manhattan on 2 May (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

In his testimony last week, he explained that he entered the contract to buy the rights to her allegations to boost Mr Trump’s chances of winning the 2016 election.

On the recording, Cohen can be heard saying: “We’ll have to pay him something.”

Mr Trump suggests paying in “cash.”

Cohen objects, repeatedly saying “no,” then, “I got it.”

Mr Trump then says “check.”

In court, Mr Trump hunched over and squinted at the small screen in front of him on the defence table, whispering to his defence attorney Todd Blanche as he read a transcript of the recording.

Michael Cohen, pictured in March 2023. (REUTERS)

Cohen had urgently arranged an LLC – Resolution Consultants LLC – to wire the money to Mr Pecker for his payments to Ms McDougal, according to testimony from Mr Pecker and Cohen’s former banker.

But he never made the transaction. The LLC was never funded. And Mr Pecker said in his testimony that he called off the deal after speaking to his own attorneys.

The recording was submitted as evidence during the testimony of a forensic analyst who pulled data from Cohen’s phones, including call logs, text messages and thousands of contacts.

The recording did not include a discussion of the so-called “hush money” plan to buy the silence of adult film star Stormy Daniels, who alleged having sex with Mr Trump in 2006.

Mr Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records for allegedly covering up his reimbursements to Cohen, who established another shell company to transfer Ms Daniels’ lawyer $130,000 just a week before Election Day in 2016.

Two weeks after ditching the shell company intended for Ms McDougal, Cohen asked his banker to open another account, according to emails shown to the court.

That account, Essential Consultants LLC, was used to wire Ms Daniels the $130,000 payment at the heart of the president’s criminal case.

The paperwork to create the LLC stated that it would be used “to collect fees for investment consulting for real estate transactions.”

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