President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning went into defense mode, bashing his former lawyer Michael Cohen for recording what appears to be him discussing hush money payments to a Playboy model, and implying that “positive things” he said were edited out of the tape released by CNN the night before.
“What kind of a lawyer would tape a client?” Trump tweeted. “So sad! Is this a first, never heard of it before? Why was the tape so abruptly terminated (cut) while I was presumably saying positive things? I hear there are other clients and many reporters that are taped — can this be so?”
“Too bad!” the president added.
Trump was responding to the audio recording Cohen made in the lead-up to the 2016 election in which the two discuss a payment to silence adult model Karen McDougal, who allegedly had an affair with Trump in 2006. It’s unclear precisely what the president was referring to when he suggested “other clients and many reporters are taped.”
On the September 2016 tape, Cohen can be heard apparently telling the then-candidate Trump that he plans to open a shell company to buy McDougal’s story from the National Enquirer, which is owned by Trump’s friend David Pecker. The tabloid purchased McDougal’s story about her affair with Trump for $150,000 before the election, then buried it in what’s referred to in the industry as a “catch and kill.”
Trump has railed against Cohen, his longtime fixer, since the existence of the recording was first reported on Friday. Rudy Giuliani, the public face of Trump’s legal team, has claimed the tape is “exculpatory,” or favorable to the defendant in a criminal trial, and the president’s team has waived the right to privilege — though it’s not clear exactly why.
The recording appears to contradict numerous claims the president and his team have made regarding his alleged affair with McDougal.
When the Wall Street Journal first reported on the Enquirer’s “catch and kill” in November 2016, days before voters went to the ballot box, a Trump spokesperson claimed that “we have no knowledge of any of this.”
However, the audio released Tuesday evening on Cuomo Prime Time seems to torpedo that assertion, with Cohen discussing the payment with Trump directly. It also may have undercut Giuliani’s description of the recording to the New York Times when the paper first reported on its existence July 20.
Giuliani claimed that Trump “told Mr. Cohen that if he were to make a payment related to Ms. McDougal, to write a check rather than send cash, so it could be properly documented.”
But Lanny Davis, the lawyer representing Cohen, suggested Tuesday that the tape actually depicts Trump saying the opposite — instructing Cohen to “pay with cash,” to which the lawyer replies, “No, no, no.”
Giuliani told Fox News after the tape’s release that the tape cleared the president, countering that he actually tells Cohen “don’t pay with cash.” But the shifting stories on the part of the Trump team, along with its characterization of the tape, raises significant questions about the reliability of Giuliani’s account of the recording that he has given to the Times and other outlets in recent days.
Giuliani told the Times last week that the payment was never made, and he repeated to Fox News Tuesday that Trump didn’t know about the payout.
The recording was obtained by the FBI when investigators raided Cohen’s office and hotel room in April as part of a probe into a number of possible crimes, including potential campaign finance violations related to his payout to silence Stormy Daniels — the adult film actress who says she had an affair with Trump in 2006.
Cohen, who once said he would “take a bullet” for Trump, was one of the president’s most loyal allies, but has appeared increasingly open to cooperating with prosecutors. This could spell significant political, and possibly legal, problems for the president.
Trump’s response on Wednesday morning largely echoed Giuliani’s remarks on Fox News Tuesday night; the former New York City mayor had suggested the tape would have been “exculpatory” had it not ended when it did, and bashed Cohen for making the recording in the first place. He also maintained that Trump is innocent.
“There’s no way the president is going to be talking about setting up a corporation and then using cash unless you’re a complete idiot,” Giuliani told Laura Ingraham on Tuesday night. “And the president’s not an idiot.”