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Report: Trump lawyer recorded Trump discussing payment to former Playboy playmate

Los Angeles Times

July 20. 2018 11:19PM

WASHINGTON — Federal authorities have obtained a recording, made two months before the presidential election, of Donald Trump discussing a payment to a former Playboy playmate who said she had an affair with him, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

The former playmate, Karen McDougal, received $150,000 from the publisher of the National Enquirer, which is run by a friend of Trump’s, David Pecker.

The recording was secretly made by Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer, and was seized by federal agents when his office, home and hotel room were searched earlier this year. Cohen remains under criminal investigation, although he has not been charged.

The existence of the recording, which was first reported by The New York Times, undermines Trump’s repeated attempts to distance himself from election-year hush money provided to multiple women, including McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels.

It could also increase Trump’s legal risks. If a payment was made with a political purpose — for example, to conceal embarrassing information shortly before the election — federal campaign finance law would have required that it be publicly disclosed. Failure to do so can be a criminal offense in some circumstances.

“What did Donald Trump know and when did he know it?” said Paul S. Ryan, a campaign finance expert at Common Cause, which has filed complaints with the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission. “Did Donald Trump knowingly violate campaign finance law, and did he commit a crime?”

The recording is a reminder of the deep danger posed to Trump from the investigation into Cohen, who was privy to his personal secrets as the person tasked with stopping negative publicity.

“We all knew there were going to be a lot of women cropping up with allegations and that it was Michael’s job to take care of it,” said an associate of Cohen’s speaking on condition of anonymity.

After years of expressing unbreakable loyalty to Trump, Cohen has distanced himself from the President and signaled a willingness to cooperate with federal prosecutors. He also hired Lanny Davis, a lawyer and spokesman who once worked for Bill and Hillary Clinton.

“My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” Cohen told ABC News recently.

Associates who have spoken to Cohen recently said he’s felt mistreated by Trump in the past and is “ready to unload.”

The investigation into Cohen is run by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan and is separate from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into Russian political interference. But there appears to be some overlap between the two.

A person who was interviewed by the special counsel’s office said prosecutors asked about Cohen’s recordings.

“They already know the answers when they’re asking you questions,” the person said. “And a lot of it is from Michael’s tapes.”

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing Daniels, told CNN that Friday’s revelation is “the tip of the iceberg.”

“This is going to spell a significant problem for Michael Cohen and a larger problem for the president,” he said.

Avenatti insisted that there are multiple recordings involving Cohen and Trump. “Michael Cohen will go down as one of the great evidence hoarders of all time,” he said.

Daniels said she slept with Trump in 2006, the same year that McDougal said she started her affair with him. That was shortly after Trump’s third and current wife, Melania, gave birth to their son, Barron.

In a March interview with CNN, McDougal said they met at a Playboy Mansion party and saw each other frequently over the next year.

“If he weren’t married, I wouldn’t have any regrets,” she said in the interview.

American Media Inc., which owns the National Enquirer, paid McDougal $150,000 for the exclusive rights to the story of her alleged affair with Trump. But in a practice known as “catch and kill,” the company did not publish the story.

The payment was first revealed by The Wall Street Journal shortly before the election. At that point, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said, “We have no knowledge of any of this.”

McDougal has since filed a lawsuit over the episode, accusing her former attorney, Keith Davidson, of secretly working with Trump representatives to keep her quiet.

“Despite their claims, it has always been AMI’s intention to manipulate and silence Karen, and we look forward to freeing her from this bogus contract so she can move on with her life in peace,” McDougal’s attorney, Peter K. Stris, said earlier this year.

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