U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media while walking towards a ceremony honoring the 2017 NCAA Football National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photographer: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg)

Trump Is Heard on Leaked Tape With Cohen Discussing Payments

(Bloomberg) -- A 2016 recording of a conversation between Donald Trump and his then-lawyer Michael Cohen appears to show Trump was informed of a payment aimed at preventing news of an alleged affair with a Playboy model from coming to light.

Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis contends the audio recording, which was made in September of 2016 by Cohen and released Tuesday night by CNN, captures the future president and Cohen talking about buying the rights to Karen McDougal’s story about what she said was an affair with Trump. McDougal sold her story to the National Enquirer, which never published it.

In the conversation, just months before the presidential election, Trump and Cohen jump from subject to subject with other voices being heard.

"I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David, you know, so that — I’m going to do that right away," Cohen says.

A little later, Trump responds, "So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?"

When Cohen mentions "financing," Trump stops him and says, "Wait a sec, what financing?"

"Well, I’ll have to pay him something," Cohen replies.

Trump then says something inaudible followed by "pay with cash." Cohen responds, "No, no, no, no, no. I got it," after which Trump is heard saying "Check."

Giuliani’s Reaction

Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for Trump, said in an interview the tape suggests Trump didn’t previously know about these payments because there are elements of surprise, such as comments regarding the financing. “It shows no wrongful intent,” Giuliani said, adding “When you pay by check you are not trying to hide anything.”

Trump questioned in a Twitter posting Wednesday morning why the tape was “so abruptly terminated (cut) while I was presumably saying positive things?”

Some of the details in the call align with the details of the episode. McDougal said that American Media Inc., the National Enquirer’s owner, had paid her $150,000 for her story before the 2016 presidential election, intending not to publish it -- what’s known as a “catch and kill” agreement -- because the company’s owner, David Pecker, is a friend of Trump’s.

On the tape, Cohen suggests a need to buy back information from Pecker’s company.

“I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David,” he says. “All the stuff. All the stuff, because, you know, you never know where that company — you never know where he’s gonna be —-”

“David gets hit by a truck,” Trump says.

“Correct,” Cohen says. “So I’m all over that.”

Relationship Alleged

McDougal claims she had a 10-month relationship with Trump starting in 2006, when he was already married to his third wife, Melania, who had given birth to their son Barron earlier that year. Trump was the host of "The Apprentice” on NBC at the time.

The White House has previously denied the affair. Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, asked July 23 if Trump still denied he ever had a relationship with McDougal, responded that "the president maintains he’s done nothing wrong," and referred questions to Giuliani.

Davis, a top aide in the Clinton White House, said Cohen, who has had a falling out with the president, was dedicated to "telling the truth." Cohen is under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors.

The recording was one of 12 seized by federal agents in raids on his office, residence and a hotel room.

Disclosure of the recordings came in a Monday court filing by the retired judge who is deciding whether prosecutors may review the thousands of items seized in the raid. The judge said “the parties” -- presumably Trump and perhaps Cohen -- no longer object to the government listening to “12 audio items.” The parties had previously claimed the 12 recordings were “privileged” and couldn’t be seen by the government.

It was Trump’s legal team that initially asserted privilege over all 12 recordings, according to people familiar with the matter. But his lawyers later withdrew the claim, they said.

Cohen hasn’t been charged with a crime. As Trump’s longtime personal attorney he was intimately involved with the future president’s personal dealings.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.