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Cohen raises the stakes with release of new secret Trump recording

As it turns out, there's more than one secret recording between Donald Trump and his former personal fixer, Michael Cohen.
Image: U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen arrives at his hotel in New York
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen arrives at his hotel in New York City, U.S., June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

When the existence of an audio recording emerged last week of Donald Trump having a pre-election phone conversation with his then-fixer, Michael Cohen, some key questions were ubiquitous. Near the top of the list: are there other tapes?

As it turns out, yes, there are. NBC News reported overnight:

Michael Cohen's attorney says a secretly recorded conversation in 2016 shows Donald Trump mentioning "cash" in relation to a possible payment involving a former Playboy model who alleges she had a year-long affair with Trump.Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, released the recording to CNN, which aired it Tuesday night. The audio recording, which was made by Cohen and is difficult to hear at times, comes after The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported on the existence of the recording last week.

At issue is a recording, apparently made in September 2016, in which Trump and Cohen discussed how to make a payment to deal with the then-candidate's Karen McDougal problem. Though the audio is far from crystal clear, there's no real doubt as to whose voices are on the recording, and as best as I can tell, no one is questioning its authenticity.

The timing of the conversation is of particular interest because of developments around that time. It was a month earlier that American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, bought the rights to McDougal's story about her alleged extramarital affair with Trump.

It's not clear exactly who would receive the money Cohen and Trump discussed at the time, but there were references to "our friend David," and that probably referred to David Pecker, chairman and chief executive of AMI, a longtime Trump ally.

At first impression, I wouldn't say the recording is necessarily a bombshell, but that's not to say it's unimportant.

For one thing, we can now say with confidence that when Trump's political operation claimed before the election that it had "no knowledge" of the payment to McDougal, that wasn't true.

For another, there are potential campaign-finance concerns to consider. As Rachel and her guests discussed last night, it's possible the payments to McDougal were made to influence the outcome of the election, which creates a legal thread worth pulling on.

And then, of course, there's the fact that Cohen and his attorney apparently released this recording at all -- which appears to be a pretty aggressive move under the circumstances, and which no doubt got the president's attention.

Cohen's attorney told NBC News, in reference to his client, "He has more truth to tell. It's unclear the impact of that truth, but he has more to tell."