A secret recording of a 2016 discussion between President Trump and his then-lawyer Michael Cohen was released Tuesday, after Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, provided the audio to CNN. In the tape, Trump and Cohen can be heard discussing buying the rights to the story of Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who alleged she had an affair with Trump in 2006.
McDougal ultimately sold her story to American Media, the publisher of the National Enquirer, for $150,000 and the promise of a recurring fitness column. The National Enquirer never published the story. Instead it was reportedly purchased as part of a “catch-and-kill” arrangement, in which American Media publisher and Trump friend David Pecker bought the rights to the story to keep it from coming to light during the campaign.
On Nov. 4, 2016, just days before the election, Trump’s then-spokesperson Hope Hicks denied both McDougal’s allegations and the notion that American Media had bought her silence, saying, “We have no knowledge of the story,” and calling McDougal’s claims of an affair “totally untrue.”
The newly released tape begins with Cohen informing Trump that the New York Times has been trying to unseal the court file from Trump’s divorce from his first wife, Ivana. Midway through, Trump shouts out to someone, “Get me a Coke, please!,” and then the conversation turns to McDougal.
“I need to open up a company regarding the transfer of that info for our friend David,” Cohen says at the beginning of the discussion, in what appears to be a reference to Pecker. “I’ve spoken to [Trump Org executive] Alan Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up, with funding.”
“It’s all the stuff,” Cohen continues. “Because you never know where that company, you never know where he’s gonna be —”
“He might get hit by a truck,” Trump interjects.
“Correct,” Cohen says. “I’m all over that. And I spoke to Alan about it, when it comes time for the financing, which will be —”
“What financing?” Trump asks.
The audio is muffled, but Trump seems to be saying the phrase, “Pay with cash.”
“No, no, no, no, no,” Cohen responds. “I got… No, no, no.”
Prosecutors have at least 11 other recordings Cohen made of meetings with Trump, according to court files. Trump waived attorney-client privilege on the tape obtained by CNN.
Before CNN aired the audio, Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s lawyers, suggested the tape was actually exculpatory evidence for the president.
"Cohen is talking about buying the rights from AMI [American Media Inc.]," Giuliani told CNN on Friday. "They're talking about a corporation doing it, one of their corporations doing it. The president says 'Make sure it's done correctly, and make sure it's done by check.'"