The issue of secret recordings of Donald Trump’s conversations has lingered for a while. For example, it was in May 2017 that the president first seemed to threaten former FBI Director James Comey, publishing a tweet that said Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations.”
We later learned that no such tapes exist – the president occasionally says ridiculous things with no basis in fact – though it’s a subject with a rich history. After all, Trump has a lengthy track record of recording communications – at Trump Tower, at various other Trump-owned properties, and elsewhere.
Perhaps Trump’s personal fixer learned a thing or two from his boss. The New York Times reports today:
President Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, secretly recorded a conversation with Mr. Trump two months before the presidential election in which they discussed payments to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump, according to lawyers and others familiar with the recording.
The F.B.I. seized the recording this year during a raid on Mr. Cohen’s office. The Justice Department is investigating Mr. Cohen’s involvement in paying women to tamp down embarrassing news stories about Mr. Trump ahead of the 2016 election. Prosecutors want to know whether that violated federal campaign finance laws, and any conversation with Mr. Trump about those payments would be of keen interest to them.
Rudy Giuliani confirmed to the NYT that there is a tape of Trump talking to Cohen, but the former mayor said the recording isn’t incriminating.
Then again, Giuliani says a lot of things.
So, how big a deal is this? There’s a fair amount to unpack here.
The woman in question isn’t Stormy Daniels – whom Cohen paid hush money to shortly before Election Day 2016 – but rather, Karen McDougal, who claims she had an extra-marital affair with Trump shortly after Melania Trump, his third and current wife, gave birth to his youngest child.
As you’ll recall, a few days before the 2016 election, the Wall Street Journal reported the company that owns the National Enquirer paid the former Playboy centerfold $150,000 for the exclusive rights to her story about her alleged affair with Trump. The tabloid, a reliable Trump ally, soon after buried the story.
The Washington Post reported last month, meanwhile, that during the campaign, National Enquirer executives “sent digital copies of the tabloid’s articles and cover images related to Donald Trump and his political opponents” to Michael Cohen in advance of publication. The article added that the tabloid would sometimes change photos and headlines in response to Cohen’s feedback.
As far as we know based on the available information, Trump didn’t pay McDougal, though he apparently spoke to Cohen about the possibility and his then-lawyer recorded the conversation.
The FBI discovered the recording as part of its raid on Cohen’s home, office, hotel room, and safe-deposit box.
All of which leads to a wide variety of questions. How many other recordings did Cohen make of his chats with the president? Why did he make them? Why didn’t he end up paying McDougal? How many recordings are there of related calls with people other than Trump?