Trump Says Cohen’s Tape of Him Was ‘Perhaps Illegal’
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump lashed out at his former lawyer after reports Michael Cohen secretly recorded a conversation in which they discussed hush-money payments to a onetime Playboy model who said she had an affair with Trump.
“Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) - almost unheard of,” Trump said in a Twitter post early Saturday. “Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client - totally unheard of & perhaps illegal.”
The comments were Trump’s first on the subject since news of the recording was reported Friday morning. The president is spending the weekend at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.
The recording was among the evidence seized from Cohen by FBI agents in an April search of his office, home and hotel room, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Trump and Cohen, his longtime “fixer,” can be heard discussing a plan to buy the rights to the model’s story from American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer tabloid, which had spent $150,000 for her story, the Washington Post reported Friday.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are probing Cohen’s business dealings and his involvement in paying women to keep quiet about their alleged relationships with Trump. Cohen’s lawyers found the recording during a review of the evidence seized in the raid and shared it with lawyers for Trump, according to the person, who declined to publicly discuss the investigation.
While details of how the recording was made weren’t available, it appears that it was legal to capture the then-real estate mogul’s words. Under U.S. as well as New York state law, phone or in-person conversations can be recorded so long as at least one of the participants has consented, according to a guide by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Trump’s characterization that the government had broken into Cohen’s office is also inaccurate: U.S. authorities obtained a search warrant before conducting the raids in which the tape and other records were seized.
The Playboy model, Karen McDougal, claims she began a 10-month affair with Trump in 2006, around the same time adult film star Stephanie Clifford, who performs under the name Stormy Daniels, said she had a one-night stand with him.
In August 2016, McDougal agreed to a $150,000 payment for her story from The National Enquirer, which never published it -- a practice known in the industry as “Catch and Kill.” David Pecker, the chief executive of AMI, is a friend of Trump’s.
On Trump’s September 2016 call with Cohen, about two months before the presidential election, Trump urges Cohen to make the payment to AMI by check so it’s properly documented, the person said.
McDougal sued AMI in March. In mid-April, just days after the FBI raided Cohen’s home and business, AMI agreed to settle and return the rights of her story.
Disclosure of the recording spurred speculation over whether Cohen has other tapes of the president. “If Michael Cohen is a patriot, then ALL of the tapes should be released to the American people,” Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Daniels, said in a tweet. “Now. Too much is at stake.”
Cohen no longer represents Trump. His lawyers and Trump’s attorneys were allowed to sift through the evidence seized by the FBI before its review by the government, and ask that certain material be withheld on the basis of attorney-client privilege or because it’s highly personal or not relevant.
A retired judge is overseeing the review of the seized material. According to a court filing on Thursday, out of more than 4,000 items that were identified as privileged by lawyers for Cohen and Trump, the judge said almost 1,500 should be turned over to the government.
Cohen hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing, and in recent weeks has indicated that he’s willing to talk to prosecutors. He’s hired an outspoken Trump critic, Lanny Davis, a former attorney for President Bill Clinton, to help respond to the U.S. probe. Davis didn’t return a call for comment.
“Obviously, there is an ongoing investigation, and we are sensitive to that,” Davis said on Twitter. “But suffice it to say that when the recording is heard, it will not hurt @MichaelCohen212. Any attempt at spin can not change what is on the tape.” On Saturday, Davis termed Trump’s latest Twitter comment “false.”
Trump’s lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, also didn’t return calls for comment.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.