US President Donald Trump lashed out at his former lawyer on Saturday, saying Michael Cohen may have acted illegally in secretly taping their discussion about a payment to hush up an alleged affair with a Playboy model.
The president was responding to bombshell reports Friday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had obtained a tape of Trump and Cohen discussing payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal when they raided the lawyer in April.
Regarding Trump's claim of potential illegality, New York state law permits the recording of a phone call or an in-person conversation as long as one party consents, according to attorney John B. Harris, who authored an article on the subject for the New York Legal Ethics Reporter. In this specific instance, it was Trump who waived the privilege after Special Master Jones ruled the tape was privileged.
The revelation casts a fresh spotlight on efforts before the presidential campaign to put the lid on damaging disclosures about Trump, as well as the trove of information Cohen might possess as he weighs cooperating with prosecutors.
Trump had apparently been unaware of the recordings until he was told about them earlier this week.
"Rudy claims the tape is 'exculpatory.' Why so angry?"
SETH WENIG AP Michael Cohen recorded the conversation with Trump which was seized by federal agents
Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani told CNN that Trump had no idea he was being recorded during his conversation with Cohen, which took place in the then-candidate's office at Trump Tower in September 2016. Cohen flipping could pose significant political, and possibly legal, problems for the president, given the lawyer's deep knowledge of his personal and business matters.
The Wall Street Journal reported in November 2016 that McDougal was paid $150,000 by American Media Inc. - the parent company to the National Enquirer - for the rights to the story, but it never ran. Two other sources said that beyond the tape with the President there were other recordings of "powerful" people speaking with Cohen that the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized.
But one source close to Cohen, without specifying any conversation or naming Trump himself, says there are "definitely all kinds of tapes out there". "Any attempt at spin can not change what is on the tape", Davis said in a statement on Friday. McDougal, 47, alleges that she had a 10-month romantic affair with Trump in 2006.
Cohen's recent public remarks have raised suspicions that he could be willing to seek a cooperation agreement with the USA attorney's office that would require him to provide information federal prosecutors could use against other individuals they are examining.
Michael Cohen leaves federal court in NY.
This comes as The New York Times reported Cohen secretly recorded the president in 2016 when he was still the GOP nominee. "We have no knowledge of any of this", Hope Hicks, the campaign spokeswoman, said at the time, adding that McDougal's claim of an affair was "totally untrue".
The matter is a potential problem for Mr Trump because undisclosed payments to bury embarrassing stories about a political candidate can be treated as a violation of U.S. campaign finance laws.