The New York Times reported that Trump’s longstanding personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, taped the conversation, and the recording was seized this year by the FBI during a raid on Cohen’s office.
Cohen’s role is being investigated by the Department of Justice, which is considering whether federal campaign finance laws were breached.
According to the Times, the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has been recruited by Trump as a personal lawyer, confirmed that the recording exists and that the two-minute conversation includes Trump discussing payments to Karen McDougal, who has claimed she had an affair with Trump in 2006, shortly after the birth of his youngest son.
Giuliani claimed the payments were not made and that Trump did nothing wrong. Representatives for Trump have denied the affair.
McDougal sold her story to the National Enquirer as the presidential campaign entered its final months. The newspaper reportedly paid her $150,000 but then failed to publish.
According to the Associated Press, in the recorded conversation, Trump and Cohen discuss buying the rights to McDougal’s story from the Enquirer.
Giuliani told the AP: “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 cheque” to keep a proper record of it.
Although Giuliani suggested to the newspaper that the content of the tape provides support for Trump, the investigation of Cohen has become a source of extreme anxiety for the White House.
Cohen was a Trump acolyte for years but has shown recent signs his loyalty is evaporating. Earlier this month in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopolous, Cohen said: “My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will.” He added: “I put my family and country first.”
Cohen also appears to have sat down for another television interview to be broadcast this weekend. The Rev Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC’s Sunday show PoliticsNation, tweeted on Friday: “Just spent an hour w/ Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney. I bet you’re wondering what we could be talking about! Stay tuned.”.
Cohen replied on Twitter, confirming the pair had spoken.
Cohen’s home and offices were raided by FBI agents in April, and files seized, after a referral from Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating matters related to Russia and the Trump campaign. This month, a court released to the government 1.3m documents not designated “privileged, partially privileged or highly personal”.
In a new filing this week to US district judge Kimba Wood, a court official ruled that of 4,085 items recently designated as privileged by Cohen, Trump, or the Trump Organization, 1,452 were not and will be released to the government.
Trump revealed his anxieties about Cohen in April when he tweeted that though “most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories”, he did not “see Michael doing that”. He also called Cohen a “fine person with a wonderful family”.
The renewed focus on Karen McDougal is in addition to the payment to the porn actor Stormy Daniels, who has alleged a sexual encounter with Trump. Giuliani has confirmed she was paid via Cohen and admitted that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 payment. Trump denies that affair too.
Filings by Trump showed payments of $250,000 to Cohen in 2017.
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