Federal investigators seized recordings from Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, during an investigation into Cohen’s business practices. After Trump signaled Cohen was persona non grata, Cohen is now releasing some of the audio via his attorney. The first tape was obtained by CNN and there’s plenty to go through, including potential evidence of campaign finance law violations.
The first tape of a recorded conversation between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump is out and it’s a doozy. The tape of a September 2016 phone call between Trump and Cohen was given to CNN by Cohen’s new attorney Lanny Davis, and it completely demolishes the lie that Trump had no idea about payments made to former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal.
McDougal alleges she had a nearly yearlong affair with the president in 2006, shortly after the birth of his son Barron. Her story is similar to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claims she had a months-long affair with Trump.
On the tape, Trump can be heard talking to Cohen about arranging payments to “our friend David,” a reference to Trump’s longtime friend David Pecker of American Media, Inc. (AMI), the company that owns the National Enquirer. The National Enquirer paid McDougal for the rights to her “life story” but never published the account of the affair, which was revealed shortly before the 2016 election by the Wall Street Journal. This “catch and kill” method of paying off people for potentially damaging stories was reportedly a regular occurrence between Trump and AMI Stormy Daniels “life story” was purchased by the company under a similar arrangement.
At the time, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks denied any knowledge of the payment. We now know that was a lie.
Here’s a transcript, courtesy of the Washington Post:
COHEN: Even after that, it’s not going to ever be opened. There’s no, there’s no purpose for it. Um, told you about Charleston. Um, I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David, you know, so that — I’m going to do that right away. I’ve actually come up and I’ve spoken —
TRUMP: Give it to me and [UNINTELLIGIBLE].
COHEN: And, I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with …
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.
[Tape cuts off abruptly. Separate recording begins.]
The portion where Cohen and Trump are discussing the payment is being disputed by the Trump camp and Cohen and his attorney. Cohen’s attorney insists Trump is instructing Cohen to pay with cash and Rudy Giuliani insists that Trump says “DON’T pay with cash.” In the Trump/Giuliani version of the conversation, Trump is instructing his sleazy lawyer to pay with a check so there’s a record of the transaction, something Giuliani believes shows Trump was doing things by the book.
Rudy Giuliani is on Fox News defending Trump by saying, “There’s no way the president is going to be talking about setting up a corporation and then using cash, unless you are complete idiot.” ? pic.twitter.com/kESaQKYuqf
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 25, 2018
It’s a ridiculous debate to be having because it doesn’t matter what form the transaction took, and the fact that Cohen set up a shell company to make doesn’t exactly scream “by the book.” If the payoff was made using campaign funds, Trump could be on the wrong side of federal campaign finance law. Giuliani is just trying to move the goalposts.
But there are a couple other portions of the tape that are noteworthy as well. Earlier in the conversation, Cohen and Trump mention the names of black evangelical pastors they plan to “use.”
COHEN: Great poll, by the way.
COHEN: Seen it. Great poll.
TRUMP: Making progress.
COHEN: Big time.
TRUMP: And, your guy is a good guy. He’s a good —
COHEN: Who, Pastor Scott?
TRUMP: Can’t believe this. No, Pastor Scott. What’s, what’s happening —
COHEN: No —
TRUMP: Can we use him anymore?
COHEN: Oh, yeah, a hundred — no, you’re talking about Mark Burns. He’s, we’ve told him to [UNINTELLIGIBLE].
TRUMP: I don’t need that — Mark Burns, are we using him?
COHEN: No, no.
The men they’re referring to are Mark Burns and Darrell Scott, African-American evangelical preachers who appeared with Trump during the campaign.
Burns, who frequently introduced Trump at rallies, came under fire around the time of the recorded phone call for falsifying his resume, including his military service:
Cohen can be heard saying “We’ve told Burns to—” before getting cut off by Trump.
Scott, along with Michael Cohen, co-founded the National Diversity Coalition For Trump. Scott has called Democrats “pimps” who “pimp out inner cities,” which is pretty rich for a guy who shills for someone who pays women he sleeps with.
Another section of the tape is raising some eyebrows as well. At the beginning of the recording, Trump can be heard talking to someone else on the phone. The Trump team’s transcript has her name as “unintelligible” and the Washington Post’s transcript claims he calls her “babe,” but it sounds like he says “Pam”:
There is an outstanding question about why Trump’s team specifically cut the name “Pam” out of the transcript, which you can hear at 1:45. In the Trump Team transcript, the name is listed as “[unintelligible]”https://t.co/NH3hF5Mu7C
— Marc Caputo (@MarcACaputo) July 25, 2018
Marc Caputo, who covers Florida politics for Politico, has a theory about who this mysterious “Pam” might be—Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. Bondi was caught up in a pay-to-play scandal when it was revealed Trump’s charity gave her an unreported $25,000 campaign donation before she declined to investigate or prosecute Trump University for fraud.
Bondi maintains her innocence, but the episode demonstrates Trump’s history of skirting campaign finance laws by unlawfully using his charity (rather than a shell company) to apparently hide the payments. The Trump Foundation is now being sued by the New York Attorney General for fraud.
There are reportedly 11 other taped conversations between Trump and Cohen (or if you believe Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti, a lot more).