Trump ex-lawyer Michael Cohen secretly recorded Trump talking about payoff to Playboy model

  • President Donald Trump was secretly recorded by his then-lawyer Michael Cohen just two months before the 2016 presidential election talking about paying off a Playboy model who claimed to have had an affair with Trump, a new report said Friday.
  • The New York Times reported that the FBI seized that recording, which related to model Karen McDougal, during a raid on Cohen's office in New York City on April 9.
  • Trump's current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told the Times on Friday that while Trump had talked about making payments with Cohen on that recording, the payment to McDougal was never actually made.

President Donald Trump was secretly recorded by his then-lawyer Michael Cohen just two months before the 2016 presidential election talking about paying off a Playboy model who claimed to have had an affair with Trump, a new report said Friday.

The New York Times reported that the FBI seized that recording, which related to model Karen McDougal, during a raid on Cohen's office in New York City on April 9.

Trump's current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told the Times on Friday that while Trump had talked about making payments with Cohen on that recording, the payment to McDougal was never actually made. The Wall Street Journal, in its own subsequent story about the recording, reported that Cohen had taped Trump in person.

A person familiar with the president's legal strategy told CNBC that Trump was "unaware" that Cohen was recording him. The source said that there are other tapes, but the president's legal team is not aware of any other "substantive tapes." The team knows of other innocuous recordings containing short conversations such as, "Michael, please call me back," and the like.

"I know this is the tip of the iceberg," Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, told CNBC when asked about the recording with McDougal, and asked if Cohen had recordings relating to Daniels.

Michael Cohen, former personal attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump, exits the Loews Regency Hotel, May 11, 2018 in New York City.
Getty Images
Michael Cohen, former personal attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump, exits the Loews Regency Hotel, May 11, 2018 in New York City.

Daniels has said she had her own tryst with Trump in 2006, the same year in which McDougal has said she began a nearly yearlong affair with him, and the same year in which his wife Melania gave birth to their son, Barron.

The Times reported that lawyers for Cohen had discovered the tape relating to McDougal when they were reviewing items seized from Cohen, and shared the tape with attorneys for Trump.

McDougal sold her account of the alleged liaison with the future president to The National Enquirer for $150,000 before the November 2016 election. But the Trump-friendly supermarket tabloid did not publish it before Election Day.

Trump proposed cash payment: Source

Giuliani told the Times that the recording made by Cohen lasts for less than two minutes, and demonstrated that Trump committed no wrongdoing.

Giuliani was quoted as saying that Cohen and Trump discussed Trump paying McDougal for her story, separately from the payment she received from The Enquirer, which would guarantee her silence in the future.

"Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of [The Enquirer's payment] in advance" of the conversation with Cohen, Giuliani said, according to the report.

Giuliani said that Trump had told Cohen that if he were to pay McDougal he should do so with a check, rather than cash, so that there would be record of the payment.

"In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence,” Giuliani told the newspaper.

But a source familiar with the recording told CNBC on Friday night that, in fact, it was Trump who raised the idea of paying McDougal with cash.

The source also said that it was Cohen who told Trump they would use a check to pay her if they ended up making such a payment.

Giuliani, former New York City mayor, did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for a comment.

The White House, which has previously denied that McDougal had an affair with Trump, referred questions to Giuliani.

Lanny Davis, one of Cohen's new lawyers, did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment on the Times article.

"We have nothing to say on this matter," Davis told The Times.

Cohen is the subject of an ongoing criminal probe by federal prosecutors in New York City. He has not been charged in that case.

Prosecutors are eyeing his business dealings, in addition to a $130,000 payment that Cohen made to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, shortly before the election.

Daniels has said the payment was to keep her quiet about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in 2006, the same year in which McDougal says her own affair with Trump began.

The White House has denied Daniels had sex with Trump. But the president has admitted reimbursing Cohen for the hush money payment to Daniels.

— Additional reporting by CNBC's Eamon Javers and Brian Schwartz .