An audio recording seized during the FBI’s raid against Michael Cohen reportedly appears to include Donald Trump discussing payments made to one of his alleged mistresses during the 2016 presidential election.
Mr Cohen secretly taped Mr Trump discussing supposed hush money provided to former Playboy model Karen McDougal two months before his election victory, the New York Times reported on Friday. If accurate, the recording directly contradicts statements the president made in which he claimed to be unaware of any payments to women during the election.
The recording may also provide evidence indicating Mr Trump willfully violated campaign finance laws in an apparent effort to silence a woman who said she had a nearly yearlong affair with him.
Lanny J Davis, a lawyer for Mr Cohen, told the Times, “We have nothing to say on this matter.”
Investigators are probing thousands of documents and material seized from Mr Cohen’s offices in an effort to determine whether he or Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign broke laws to keep negative information about the Republican nominee out of the press.
Mr Trump’s former spokesperson Hope Hicks also flatly denied being aware of the payments along the campaign trail, telling the Wall Street Journal when it first reported the news, “We have no knowledge of any of this.”
Ms McDougal is just one of several women who are said to have received payments to remain silent about their alleged affairs with Mr Trump.
The tabloid newspaper the National Enquirer reportedly conducted a “catch and kill” operation in which it would buy out the rights to stories about affairs Mr Trump had with multiple women while married through its parent company, American Media Inc. During the final stretch of the campaign season, the former Playboy model agreed to sell her story to the company for $150,000.
The recording includes Mr Trump and Mr Cohen discussing potentially purchasing the rights to Ms Mcdougal’s story from American Media Inc., the Washington Post reported. The president reportedly encourages his lawyer to use a cheque when purchasing the rights to the story, so as to document the transaction.
It does not appear the two went through with purchasing the rights, however.
Mr Cohen is reportedly considering cooperating with prosecutors after previously saying he’d “take a bullet” for the president. Rudy Giuliani, another of the president’s lawyers, confirmed the recording existed but said it showed no wrongdoing on Mr Trump’s part.
“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance,” Mr Giuliani said, adding that the payment was never actually made.
However, Ms McDougal did eventually receive payment through American Media Inc., though she later sued for the rights to tell her story and settled with the company earlier this year.
“My goal from the beginning was to restore my rights and not to achieve any financial gain, and this settlement does exactly that,” Ms McDougal said. “I am relieved to be able to tell the truth about my story when asked, and I look forward to being able to return to my private life and focus on what matters to me.”
Ms McDougal claimed to have begun an affair with Mr Trump in 2006, a year after he married Melania Trump, and was first offered money in exchange for sex with the future president. In an interview with CNN, the former model said she felt “guilty” and ended the affair nearly 10 months later in April 2007.
Stormy Daniels, an adult film star and director, also claimed to have received payments to remain silent about her alleged affair with Mr Trump. She and her lawyer Michael Avenatti have been cooperating with prosecutors in recent months, sending investigators files related to the payments she received throughout the 2016 election.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
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