Trump's lawyer secretly recorded US president discussing payment to Playboy model

President's inner circle insisted the payment was not made

epa06901336 US President Donald J. Trump walks on the South Lawn to depart the White House by Marine One, in Washington, DC, USA, 20 July 2018. Trump travels to Bedminster, New Jersey, for the weekend.  EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Donald Trump's former personal lawyer secretly recorded the President discussing a possible payment to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with him, a person familiar with an investigation into the attorney said on Friday.

The president's current personal lawyer confirmed the conversation and said it showed Mr Trump did nothing wrong, according to The New York Times, which first reported on the recording.

The FBI has the recording, which lawyer Michael Cohen made two months before Mr Trump's 2016 election, according to the person who spoke to the AP. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing inquiry, said the payment was never made.

The FBI raided Mr Cohen's office, home and hotel room in April amid an investigation into his business dealings, including any information on payments made in 2016 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal. She says she had an affair with Mr Trump in 2006. He denies it.

The Wall Street Journal revealed, days before the election, that the National Enquirer — run by Trump supporter David Pecker — had paid $150,000 to silence Ms McDougal. At the time, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said, "We have no knowledge of any of this."

The Washington Post, citing a person familiar with the recording, said Friday the recording captured Mr Trump and Mr Cohen discussing an effort the attorney planned to make to buy the rights to Ms McDougal's story for roughly $150,000 from the Enquirer's parent company, American Media Inc.

Mr Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani told The New York Times the Republican president did discuss the payments to Ms McDougal with Mr Cohen on the less than two-minute-long recording, but that the payment was never made.

Mr Giuliani says Mr Trump told Mr Cohen that if he did make a payment, to do it by check so it could be documented.

"Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance," Mr Giuliani told the newspaper. "In the big scheme of things, it's powerful exculpatory evidence."

Giuliani and Cohen haven't immediately responded to messages from the Associated Press. Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis declined to comment to the The New York Times.

Ms McDougal's lawyer, Peter Stris, did not immediately respond to a message.

Mr Cohen, a self-described fixer for Mr Trump for more than a decade, said last year that he "would take a bullet" for the president. But Mr Cohen told an interviewer earlier this month that he now puts "family and country first" and won't let anyone paint him as "a villain of this story."

Hours before The New York Times published its story, Mr Cohen met in New York Friday morning with the Rev. Al Sharpton, a frequent critic of Mr Trump.

Mr Cohen and Mr Sharpton said in tweets they have known each other for 20 years. Mr Cohen contacted the civil rights activist in recent weeks, longtime Sharpton spokeswoman Rachel Noerdlinger said.

She said the two revisited conversations they'd had over the years when Mr Cohen was Mr Sharpton's conduit to Mr Trump during clashes over race issues and over Mr Trump's years of questioning the authenticity of former President Barack Obama's birth certificate.

Mr Cohen tweeted there's "no one better to talk to!" than Mr Sharpton, who used his own Twitter account to advise readers: "Stay tuned."


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