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Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, secretly recorded Trump shortly before the 2016 presidential election discussing buying the rights to the story of a former Playboy model who alleges she had an affair with Trump, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
The Journal reported the conversation took place in September 2016, a month after American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, had purchased the rights to ex-Playmate Karen McDougal’s story of the alleged extramarital affair.
Cohen suggested that he and Trump consider buying the rights to her story themselves. It is unclear why they didn’t, The Journal said.
McDougal has said that AMI agreed to pay her $150,000 for her story but then did not publish it.
David Pecker, the CEO and chairman of AMI, is a Trump supporter who reportedly described the president as a “personal friend.” Former AMI employees told The New Yorker that Pecker often buys the rights to a story in order to bury it — a tabloid industry practice called “catch and kill.”
McDougal says she had an year-long affair with Trump more than a decade ago, which Trump has denied.
The recording was seized in April when the FBI raided Cohen’s office and hotel rooms, The Times reported, citing lawyers and others familiar with the recording..
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, initially told The Times that Cohen recorded a brief conversation with Trump discussing a possible payment from Trump to McDougal.
The Times later revised its story and reported that Giuliani later told the paper that Trump and Cohen had actually discussed buying the rights to McDougal’s story from the Enquirer, which the paper said would have effectively reimbursed the Enquirer for its payments to her.
Giuliani also said the recording demonstrated no wrongdoing by Trump.
“Nothing in that conversation suggests that (Trump) had any knowledge of it in advance,” Giuliani said. “In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence.”
Trump was “unaware” that Cohen was recording him, CNBC reported on Friday, citing a source familiar with the matter. The source also said other tapes exist, but the president’s legal team is not aware of any other “substantive tapes.”
The White House declined to comment.
Lanny Davis, an attorney for Cohen, told NBC News he has no comment on the Times’ story or the existence of this recording.
Barbara Jones, the special master overseeing the review of evidence seized from Cohen, said on Friday she was provided with 4,085 items that Cohen, Trump or the Trump Organization marked as attorney-client privilege. But Jones pushed back on the designation of 1,452 of those items, so those will be handed over to government investigators.
Cohen’s lawyers found the recording when reviewing the seized materials from the raid and shared it with Trump’s lawyers, The Times said, citing three unnamed sources.
McDougal also has filed a lawsuit seeking the right to speak publicly about her alleged affair with Trump. Adult film star Stormy Daniels has also sued the president to nullify a nondisclosure agreement about an alleged affair, which the White House also has denied.