President Donald Trump's new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, confirmed that federal investigators found a recording made by Trump's longtime personal attorney, Michael D. Cohen, in which then-candidate Trump discusses a payment to a former Playboy model who alleges she had an affair with Trump.
“Totally untrue,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks told the Wall Street Journal weeks before the 2016 election when asked about an alleged affair between Trump and Playboy model Karen McDougal.
The New York Times now reports that a recording of Trump discussing a hush payment to McDougal was discovered as part of the raid on Cohen's home office and hotel carried out by the F.B.I. earlier this year in New York. The Justice Department is investigating Cohen as part of a "criminal investigation" involving payoffs to women who claim to have had relationships with Trump before the 2016 election. Prosecutors are investigating whether Cohen violated any federal campaign finance laws, and any conversation with Trump about those payments could be very significant.
Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, confirmed to the Times that Trump had discussed the payments with Cohen, but said the payment was ultimately never made. He also told the newspaper that the recording proved that the president had done nothing wrong.
"Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance," Giuliani said. "In the big scheme of things, it's powerful exculpatory evidence."
He also said that Trump told Cohen that if he were to make a payment related to the woman, he should write a check, rather than send cash so that it could be properly documented.
Giuliani reportedly told CNN there are more tapes of Trump that Cohen's lawyers have made him aware of being in the possession of the FBI.
According to the New York Times, "the recording's existence further draws Mr. Trump into questions about tactics he and his associates used to keep aspects of his personal and business life a secret. And it highlights the potential legal and political danger that Mr. Cohen represents to Mr. Trump. Once the keeper of many of Mr. Trump’s secrets, Mr. Cohen is now seen as increasingly willing to consider cooperating with prosecutors."
McDougal says she began a nine-month affair with Trump in 2006, shortly after Trump's wife, Melania, gave birth to their son Barron. Shortly before Election Day in 2016, American Media, Inc. — which publishes the National Inquirer and whose CEO is a good friend of Trump's — paid for the exclusive rights to the story of McDougal's affair with Trump. They did so as part of a practice known as "catch and kill," in which media outlets purchase the rights to stories and then never publish. The effort effectively silenced McDougal for the rest of the presidential campaign.
McDougal has accused Cohen of secretly taking part in the deal, an allegation that is included in the F.B.I. investigation.