US & Canada

Tape reveals Trump and lawyer discussing payoff over alleged affair

From left: Michael Cohen, Karen McDougal, Donald Trump Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption From left: Michael Cohen, Karen McDougal, Donald Trump

A recording of a conversation in which President Donald Trump and his lawyer discuss a payoff over an alleged affair with a model has been broadcast by CNN.

Mr Trump and Michael Cohen discuss buying the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal's story.

The audiotape was recorded in September 2016, two months before the election. The affair allegedly dates to 2006.

Mr Trump's current lawyer Rudy Giuliani says no money was paid, and the tape does not show evidence of any crime.

The tape obtained by CNN was one of a number reportedly discovered during an FBI raid on Mr Cohen's property earlier this year in New York.

Mr Giuliani said Mr Cohen had recorded the McDougal conversation at Trump Tower in New York using a hidden device.

Mr Trump has criticised Mr Cohen on Twitter, saying: "What kind of a lawyer would tape a client?"

Mr Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis, took to Twitter to respond warning: "Just as Richard Nixon learned, tapes don't lie!"

What's on the tape?

The conversation jumps around, there are other voices and some of the audio is muffled.

Mr Trump and Mr Cohen, who no longer works for the president, appear to be discussing buying the rights to Ms McDougal's story from the parent company of the National Enquirer. The former Playboy model had sold her story to the Enquirer in the run-up to the election.

Mr Cohen says: "I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David."

This could be a reference to Mr Trump's friend, David Pecker, president of American Media Inc, the National Enquirer's parent company.

Mr Trump says later: "So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?"

Ms McDougal reportedly received $150,000 (£115,000) from the Enquirer for her story.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Cohen once famously vowed he would take a bullet for the president

Mr Cohen starts to mention financing and Mr Trump asks: "What financing?"

Mr Cohen says: "We'll have to pay".

The next section is pivotal. Mr Trump is heard saying "pay with cash" but it is not clear if he is suggesting to do so or not do so. Mr Cohen's response is clear: "No, no, no".

Mr Trump is then heard saying "cheque".

An escalating fight?

Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Washington

In April, Donald Trump tweeted that Michael Cohen is a "fine person" who he has "always liked and respected", adding that he didn't see him ever turning on his former boss.

The president might be having second thoughts now that Mr Cohen has made public his recording of a controversial conversation first leaked to the press last week.

"We were not going to let Michael become a punching bag," Lanny Davis, Mr Cohen's new lawyer, said in explaining the move.

Instead, Mr Cohen is throwing the punches, raising suspicions that this may be the first blow in an escalating fight with the president. There are, Mr Davis says, "a lot of other tapes". And given Mr Cohen's business and legal work for Mr Trump over the course of a decade, there's no telling what surprises might be in store.

Mr Cohen telegraphed this latest turn of events by selecting Mr Davis as his attorney. The long-time Washington operative is a former Democratic congressional candidate, member of the Democratic National Committee and lawyer for President Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial.

Mr Davis is the kind of man you want if you're preparing for war… against Republicans.

What does it all mean?

The Department of Justice is looking into alleged hush money paid to women who claim they had a relationship with Mr Trump.

It is a potential problem for Mr Trump because undisclosed payments to bury embarrassing stories about a political candidate can be treated as a violation of US campaign finance laws.

At the very least, the tape suggests Mr Trump was aware that discussions were taking place to buy the rights to Ms McDougal's story.

When previously questioned about Ms McDougal, President Trump had denied the affair and said he had no knowledge of any payment.

Mr Giuliani told Associated Press news agency that he had had the tape enhanced and it clearly shows the president saying "don't pay with cash".

He told AP: "The president wanted to do it the right way. If you wanted to hide something, you would not do it by corporation or cheque."

Mr Giuliani said no payment was made in the end although he did not know why that was the case.

Image copyright CBS

Who is Karen McDougal?

A former Playboy model who says she had a 10-month relationship with Mr Trump starting in 2006. He was already then married to Melania and was the host of TV show The Apprentice.

She sold her story to the National Enquirer, signing a $150,000 agreement that gave the tabloid exclusive story rights and banned her from talking publicly about the alleged affair.

The Enquirer did not publish her kiss-and-tell, and she says she was tricked.

Mr Trump has denied any affair took place. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said this week "the president maintains he's done nothing wrong".

What about Michael Cohen?

A former Trump stalwart, Mr Cohen once famously vowed he would take a bullet for the president.

But things changed after the FBI raided his office and home in April.

About a dozen audio recordings were seized and passed to federal prosecutors.

Mr Cohen told ABC News this month that his loyalty to his family and country came before his old boss.

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Media captionWas Trump's Stormy Daniels payment legal?

His comments stoked speculation that he might co-operate with investigators against Mr Trump, although there has been no confirmation so far that he has done so.

Mr Cohen is reportedly under investigation for possible bank and tax fraud, as well as potential violation of election law, though he has so far not been charged with anything.

This relates to another woman who claims an affair with Mr Trump, Stormy Daniels, also in 2006.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, has typically represented Democrats over the years

In May, President Trump admitted he had reimbursed Mr Cohen for a payment he made to hush up her claims.

Mr Trump had previously denied all knowledge of the $130,000 payment as part of a non-disclosure agreement.