(CBSNEWS) – Two months before the November 2016 election, longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen secretly recorded a conversation with then-candidate Donald Trump about payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, the New York Times reported Friday. McDougal alleges she had a roughly year-long relationship with the real estate mogul in 2006.
The Times cited lawyers and others familiar with the recording.
That recording, according to the Times, was seized by the FBI when it raided Cohen’s office in April, as a part of federal investigators’ probe into Cohen’s business dealings. The Times says Cohen’s lawyers became aware of the tape when they reviewed evidence collected by investigators, and Cohen’s lawyers shared the recording with Mr. Trump’s lawyers. Justice Department investigators, as CBS News has reported, are interested in payments made to women who claim they had a relationship with Mr. Trump to determine if there were any campaign finance violations.
The report of the recorded conversation comes amid questions of whether Cohen will cooperate with federal investigators as a part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling and ties to Trump associates. Cohen, as CBS News’ Jeff Pegues has reported, has been under a great deal of pressure to cooperate. According to Mr. Trump, Cohen is no longer his personal lawyer.
McDougal accepted $150,000 from American Media Inc. (AMI), the parent company of tabloids including the National Enquirer. She sold her story with the expectation that she would write for the Enquirer, but AMI didn’t publish the story, a process sometimes called “catch and kill.”
CBS News has reached out to the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and to Cohen’s lawyer.
In a phone conversation with the Times, Giuliani confirmed Mr. Trump had discussed payments with Cohen on the tape, but claimed the payment was ultimately never made.
“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance,” said Giuliani, who told the Times that Mr. Trump had directed Cohen that if he made a payment related to the woman, he should write a check instead of sending cash to document the transaction.
“In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence,” Giuliani also told the Times.
Payments to women have become a topic the White House and Mr. Trump’s lawyers have had to address in recent months. In May, Giuliani revealed on Fox News that Mr. Trump repaid Cohen for a $130,000 payment Cohen made to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the election in 2016. Giuliani insisted that there was no campaign finance violation in that instance.
A White House spokesperson said in a February statement that Mr. Trump denies having had an affair with McDougal.
“This is an old story that is just more fake news,” the spokesperson said at the time. “The President says he never had a relationship with McDougal.”