Executive Branch

After Cohen's lawyer releases McDougal tape, dispute arises over what Trump said about cash payment

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Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen. a katz / Shutterstock.com

Lawyers for President Donald Trump and Michael Cohen are at odds about what Trump said about a cash payment for the story of former Playboy model Karen McDougal on a secretly recorded September 2016 tape released by Cohen on Tuesday.

Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, gave the audio tape to CNN, which aired it on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time. Later, Trump’s lawyers responded by releasing a transcript that is more certain than the audio on what Trump said about the payment, the Washington Post reports.

The tape appears to show Trump had some familiarity with the National Enquirer’s $150,000 payment to McDougal for the rights to her story, though a lawyer for Trump differs with that interpretation, according to the Post and the New York Times. McDougal has alleged an affair with Trump.

The tape was among 12 Cohen tapes turned over to federal prosecutors after Trump waived privilege claims. The tapes were among materials seized by the FBI during its raids on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room in April.

On the tape, Trump and Cohen discuss buying the rights to McDougal’s story from the parent company of the National Enquirer, which never ran the story about McDougal’s allegations of an affair.

Davis told the Washington Post that Cohen decided to release the tape to rebut false statements by Giuliani about Cohen’s role in the conversation.

Here is the Washington Post’s version of what was said after Cohen told Trump he needs to create a company “for the transfer of that info regarding our friend, David,” an apparent reference to David Pecker, the chairman of the National Enquirer’s parent company.

TRUMP: So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?

COHEN: … Funding . . . Yes. Um, and it’s all the stuff.

TRUMP: Yeah, I was thinking about that.

COHEN: All the stuff. Because—here, you never know where that company—you never know what he’s—

TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.

COHEN: Correct. So, I’m all over that. And, I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing, which will be —

TRUMP: Wait a sec, what financing?

COHEN: Well, I’ll have to pay him something.

TRUMP: [UNINTELLIGIBLE] pay with cash …

COHEN: No, no, no, no, no. I got it.

TRUMP: … check. [The New York Times says it’s not clear who said “check.” The audio cuts off at this point.]

The transcript released by Trump’s legal team has Trump saying, “Don’t pay with cash.”

Alan Futerfas, lawyer for the Trump Organization, told the Washington Post that Trump’s reference to cash was intended to mean that he wanted a one-time payment through wire, bank transfer or check, rather than financing the transaction. “The notion that they were discussing using a bag of cash or green currency is ridiculous,” Futerfas said.

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, differs with Davis on whether the tape shows Trump had advance knowledge of the McDougal deal. “To me it sounds like Cohen is explaining something to [Trump] that he doesn’t understand,” Giuliani told the Post. Trump “doesn’t seem that familiar with anything. There is nothing to indicate he knew anything in advance.” Giuliani has previously said Trump never made the McDougal payment and the tape was “exulpatory.”

Trump responded to the release of the tape this morning in a tweet that asks, “What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So sad!” Trump also asks why the tape was “so abruptly terminated (cut while I was presumably saying positive things.”

Updated headline at 11:50 a.m. to clarify that Cohen’s lawyer released the tape.

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