Michael Cohen’s legal team moved to further distance the attorney from his longtime client, President Donald Trump, on Tuesday, releasing a secretly recorded conversation between the two men in which they discuss a payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis appeared on CNN on Tuesday evening to discuss the tape, recorded in September 2016 during a meeting with then-candidate Trump. In it, the men appear to discuss plans to set up a company to finance a $150,000 payment made by American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, to McDougal for her story, in which she claimed she had a months-long affair with Trump. The Enquirer never published the story, instead moving to bury it with a strategy known as “catch and kill.”
“I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David,” Cohen says in the recording, likely referring to AMI CEO David Pecker, a personal friend of the president. The audio isn’t clear at points, but Trump can be heard asking “What financing?” followed by the phrase “pay with cash.”
The existence of the tape was first reported Friday by The New York Times. Court filings later revealed that prosecutors had obtained a total of 12 audio files during an FBI raid on Cohen’s offices and hotel room in April.
Davis, Cohen’s attorney, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that current Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani had been “falsely disparaging” his client in recent weeks, and he implied that a longstanding relationship with the president was wearing thin.
“What do they fear, Chris? Why am I representing him? They fear that he has the truth about Donald Trump,” Davis said on CNN. “He will someday speak the truth about Donald Trump. The truth is that when Donald Trump said ‘cash,’ which Rudy Giuliani knows that only drug dealers and mobsters talk about cash, it was, you heard Michael Cohen ... say what? ‘No, no, no, no.’”
He continued: “Ladies and gentlemen, if you voted for Donald Trump, listen to the tape and ask yourself: Is Donald Trump lying when he said he didn’t use the word ‘cash’ and accuses Michael Cohen of using the word ‘cash’? Cohen has been disparaged. Cohen has been insulted and called all sorts of things by people around Donald Trump.”
Giuliani went on Fox News on Tuesday ― after declining to appear on CNN ― to deny any wrongdoing on Trump’s part. The former mayor claimed that Trump did not ask to pay in cash and criticized Cohen for recording his client “surreptitiously.”
“There’s no way that the president is going to be talking about setting up a corporation and then using cash, unless you are a complete idiot,” Giuliani told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham. “And the president’s not an idiot.”
Guiliani also told Fox there was no “indication of any crime being committed on this tape” and that Trump was unaware of any transactions prior to the recording. At one point in the recording, however, Trump comments about Cohen paying “one-fifty” for something, a figure that would match the $150,000 AMI payment to McDougal.
“So what do you got to pay for this... one-fifty... ,” Trump said.
“Yes,” Cohen replied. “Um, and it’s all the stuff.”
Giuliani told The Washington Post late Tuesday that the similarity was just a coincidence “open to interpretation.”
“To me, it sounds like Cohen is explaining something to [Trump] that he doesn’t understand,” Giuliani told the Post. “He doesn’t seem that familiar with anything. There is nothing to indicate he knew anything in advance.”
McDougal filed a lawsuit in March asking to be freed from a legal agreement she entered with AMI for the exclusive rights to her claims that she had a 2006 affair with Trump. She said she was unaware that Pecker had a relationship with Trump when she sold her story to the National Enquirer.
When asked directly about McDougal’s AMI deal days before the 2016 election, Trump’s former spokeswoman Hope Hicks told the Wall Street Journal the campaign had “no knowledge of any of this.”
Cohen’s recording was seized during an FBI raid of his New York office earlier this year. The agency has been investigating Cohen for a payment he made to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who also claimed to have had an affair with the president in 2006 and was paid for her silence during the presidential campaign.