The New York Times on Friday broke bombshell news that in September 2016, President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, secretly recorded a conversation with Trump “in which they discussed payments to a former Playboy model [Karen McDougal] who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump, according to lawyers and others familiar with the recording.”
Shortly afterward, a follow-up report from The Washington Post added more details about the content of this discussion. Citing a source “familiar with the recording,” the Post reported that Cohen and Trump discussed purchasing the rights to McDougal’s story of her alleged affair from American Media Inc (AMI).
AMI is the parent company of the National Enquirer. AMI’s CEO, David Pecker, describes himself as a close friend of Trump.
Just days before the 2016 election, The Wall Street Journal broke news that AMI paid McDougal for the rights to her story in August 2016, the month before Cohen’s recorded conversation with Trump. Despite purchasing the rights, the Enquirer never published anything about McDougal’s alleged affair with Trump — a technique known in the tabloid world as “catch and kill.”
In WSJ’s initial story from November 2016, then-Trump campaign spokesman Hope Hicks denied all knowledge of AMI’s payment to McDougal to effectively suppress her story shortly before the presidential election — a payment that could constitute an illegal campaign contribution if it was meant to help Trump’s chances of becoming president.
“We have no knowledge of any of this,” she told the outlet.
The slew of media reports on Friday about Cohen’s recording of his conversation with Trump about the McDougal payment indicates that Hicks’ statement was a blatant lie.
McDougal sued to void her agreement with AMI in March, arguing the company didn’t live up to its commitments about featuring her in various AMI publications. McDougal also argued that her attorney during the AMI negotiations, Keith Davidson, was secretly colluding with Cohen.
Though AMI initially tried to fight McDougal’s lawsuit, they agreed to a settlement with terms very favorable to McDougal shortly after the FBI raided Michael Cohen’s office on April 9. The recording of Cohen’s conversation with Trump about McDougal was reportedly seized as part of that raid.
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, released a statement to the Post on Friday suggesting the president’s legal team will try to explain away the Cohen recording as evidence Trump didn’t know about AMI’s payment to McDougal in advance.
“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of [the AMI payment] in advance,” Giuliani said. “In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence.”
Note, however, that Hicks’ November 2016 statement to the WSJ denies knowledge of payments to McDougal without any qualification whatsoever.
If the Cohen-Trump tape shows that Trump knew payments to McDougal would keep her quiet and thus help his campaign, he helped solicit an illegal campaign contribution https://t.co/95rTvWGSzP
— Will Bunch (@Will_Bunch) July 20, 2018
CNN reports that the FBI is in possession of additional recordings Cohen made of conversations involving Trump, and that the president views the leak of news about the tape of him discussing payments to McDougal as a personal betrayal.
“I can’t believe Michael would do this to me,” Trump remarked in response to the Times’ report, according to CNN.