BY ERIC TUCKER and JENNIFER PELTZ
NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer secretly recorded Trump discussing a potential payment for a former Playboy model’s account of having an affair with him, people familiar with an investigation into the attorney said Friday.
The payment was never made, according to Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who confirmed the recording and said it shows Trump did nothing wrong.
Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen surreptitiously made the recording two months before Trump’s 2016 election, according to a person familiar with a federal investigation into Cohen that brought the tape to light. The FBI now has it, according to the person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing inquiry.
The conversation between Trump and Cohen came weeks after the National Enquirer’s parent company reached a $150,000 deal to pay ex-Playmate Karen McDougal for her story of a 2006 affair, which it never published — a tabloid practice known as “catch and kill.” Trump denies the affair ever happened.
The company, American Media Inc., is run by Trump friend and supporter David Pecker.
The company’s payment effectively silenced McDougal through the election, though days beforehand, news of the deal emerged in The Wall Street Journal. At the time, a Trump spokeswoman said his campaign had “no knowledge of any of this.”
But in the recorded conversation, he and Cohen appear to be discussing purchasing the rights to McDougal’s story from the Enquirer’s parent company, according to the person familiar with the investigation.
Giuliani told the AP on Friday that the conversation between the two men was very brief.
“The transaction that Michael is talking about on the tape never took place, but what’s important is: If it did take place, the president said it has to be done correctly and it has to be done by check” to keep a proper record of it, Giuliani said.
Cohen, his lawyers, McDougal’s lawyer and an American Media Inc. spokesman didn’t immediately respond to messages. Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis declined to comment to The New York Times, which first reported on the recording.
The development will likely revive questions about what other recordings of Trump’s conversations might exist. As a businessman, Trump himself occasionally recorded his phone calls, a former Trump Organization executive told the AP last year, although Trump once denied doing so.
The FBI raided Cohen’s office, home and hotel room in April amid an investigation into his business dealings, including any information on payments to McDougal. Meanwhile, a government watchdog group has asked the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission to investigate whether AMI’s payment to the former centerfold amounted to an unreported and illegal corporate campaign contribution.
The Cohen investigation, by federal prosecutors in New York, is separate from an ongoing inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Cohen hasn’t been charged with any crime.
A self-described fixer for Trump for more than a decade, he said last year he would “take a bullet” for Trump. But he told an interviewer earlier this month that he now puts “family and country first” and won’t let anyone paint him as “a villain of this story.” On Twitter, he scrubbed mentions and photos of Trump from a profile that previously identified him as “Personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump.”
He wouldn’t say in the recent interview whether he would cooperate with prosecutors. If he decided to do so, it could be risky for the president, given the pair’s close relationship over the years.
The Enquirer’s payment to McDougal gave the tabloid the exclusive rights to any story she might ever wish to tell about having an affair with a married man.
She later publicly alleged that the Enquirer had tricked her into accepting the deal and had threatened to ruin her if she broke it. After she sued the tabloid seeking to invalidate the contract in March, the Enquirer agreed to allow her to tell her story.
Hours before the Times revealed the recorded conversation, Cohen met in New York Friday morning with the Rev. Al Sharpton, a frequent critic of Trump.
Cohen and Sharpton said in tweets they have known each other for 20 years. Cohen contacted the civil rights activist in recent weeks, longtime Sharpton spokeswoman Rachel Noerdlinger said.
She said the two revisited conversations they’d had over the years when Cohen was Sharpton’s conduit to Trump during clashes over race issues and over Trump’s questioning of the authenticity of former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
Cohen tweeted there’s “no one better to talk to!” than Sharpton, who used his own Twitter account to advise readers: “Stay tuned.”
Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Jake Pearson in New York contributed.
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