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story.lead_photo.caption President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base on Friday for a trip to his golf course in Bedminster, N.J. In a Twitter post early Saturday, Trump lashed out at former attorney Michael Cohen over secretly recording a conversation about a potential payment to a woman.

BEDMINSTER, N.J. -- President Donald Trump on Saturday said it was "inconceivable" that a lawyer would tape a client, responding to a report that his then-personal attorney secretly recorded a conversation in which they discussed a potential payment to a former Playboy model.

"Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer's office (early in the morning) - almost unheard of," Trump said in a Twitter post early Saturday. "Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client - totally unheard of & perhaps illegal. The good news is that your favorite President did nothing wrong!"

The comments were Trump's first on the subject since news of the recording was reported Friday morning. The president is spending the weekend at his golf course in Bedminster, N.J.

The recording, made weeks before the 2016 election, was part of a collection of documents and electronic records seized earlier this year by federal authorities from Michael Cohen, the longtime Trump attorney.

Most states, including New York, allow for recordings of conversations with only the consent of one party; other states require all parties to agree to a recording or have mixed laws on the matter. It was not immediately clear where Trump and Cohen were located at the time the recording was made.

Cohen, in his dealings on Trump's behalf with journalists, opposing lawyers and business adversaries, frequently taped his conversations, unbeknownst to the people with whom he was speaking. Trump also has a history of recording phone calls and conversations.

Ex-Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal says she began a 10-month affair with Trump in 2006, shortly after Trump's wife, Melania, gave birth to their son Barron. Trump's representatives have denied an affair took place.

In August 2016, McDougal agreed to a $150,000 payment for her story from The National Enquirer, which never published it. The National Enquirer is a division of American Media Inc. David Pecker, the chief executive of American Media, is a friend of Trump's.

When The Wall Street Journal reported on American Media's payments to McDougal days before the election, the Trump campaign denied knowing about them.

"We have no knowledge of any of this," Hope Hicks, the campaign spokesman, said at the time, adding that McDougal's claim of an affair was "totally untrue."

Trump's advisers have suggested that Cohen had made payments without Trump's knowledge.

However, on the September 2016 tape, Trump and Cohen can be heard discussing a plan to buy the rights to McDougal's story from American Media, the Washington Post reported Friday. A person describing the contents of the tape said Trump can be heard urging Cohen to make the payment by check so it's properly documented.

Cohen no longer represents Trump. His lawyers and Trump's attorneys were allowed to sift through the evidence seized by the FBI before its review by the government, and to ask that certain material be withheld on the basis of attorney-client privilege or because it's highly personal or not relevant.

After learning about the tape, The New York Times approached Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for comment. A person familiar with the discussions said the president's legal team chose not to assert attorney-client privilege over the recording.

Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, said that no payment was made and that the recording shows Trump did nothing wrong.

"The transaction that Michael is talking about on the tape never took place, but what's important is: If it did take place, the president said it has to be done correctly and it has to be done by check," Giuliani said.

Lanny Davis, a veteran of President Bill Clinton's White House and a critic of Trump, is now serving as Cohen's attorney. He said "any attempt at spin cannot change what is on the tape."

"When the recording is heard, it will not hurt Mr. Cohen," Davis said in a statement, noting that Cohen has not been charged with a crime.

Transparency groups and Democrats have argued that the secret efforts to silence Trump accusers, including a payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, should be investigated by the Federal Election Commission as potential violations of campaign finance laws, which require disclosure of campaign expenditures. Trump's attorneys have argued that any payments to accusers would have been made regardless of his presidential candidacy, and that no violation occurred.

The FBI investigation into possible campaign finance violations is separate from special counsel Robert Mueller's probe of election interference in 2016 and potential obstruction of justice by those in the president's orbit.

A PRESS MATTER

Federal authorities are investigating whether American Media at times acted more as a political supporter than in what campaign finance law calls a "legitimate press function," according to people briefed on the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The issue is about when coverage favorable to a candidate strays into overt political activity and when First Amendment protections should apply. The National Enquirer has run articles praising Trump, and it ran articles during the presidential campaign raising concerns about his opponents, alleging poor health, extramarital affairs and the use of prostitutes.

The company completed its deal with McDougal in August 2016, paying $150,000 for rights to publish fitness columns under her name and for exclusive rights to her story about the alleged affair. By burying McDougal's story during the campaign in a practice known in the tabloid industry as "catch and kill," critics say, American Media protected Trump from negative publicity that could have harmed his election chances, and it spent money to do so.

After the campaign, McDougal negotiated permission to answer press questions about the alleged relationship, and in March she sued to break the agreement with American Media. In mid-April, just days after the FBI raided Cohen's home and business, American Media agreed to settle and return the rights to her story.

Prosecutors did not warn American Media before subpoenaing executives there in the spring, people with knowledge of the process said. American Media, which has denied any wrongdoing, did not challenge the move.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York, which is handling the inquiry, declined to comment.

Cameron Stracher, an American Media lawyer, indicated that the company was cooperating with the investigation.

"[American Media] respects the legitimate law enforcement activities by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York," he said. But he suggested there was some give-and-take in what American Media was willing to share, adding that it "has asserted and will continue to assert its First Amendment rights in order to protect its newsgathering and editorial operations."

While moves by prosecutors to subpoena journalists usually draw protests from groups that advocate press protections, there has been no rallying of support for American Media. Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said his group hadn't mounted a staunch defense in part because the publisher had not asked for help. The situation is otherwise too murky for his group to wade into, he said.

"It's really challenging for press advocates to get behind it because, one, we haven't been asked, and two, we just don't know enough about the circumstances to be out with them on it," Brown said.

Alexandra Ellerbeck, North America program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the group had not been focused on American Media, but added, "You don't want people doing activity that would otherwise be illegal and putting the name of press on it for protections."

The company, denying wrongdoing in the past, has said that any actions it took were journalistic and that any contact it had with Cohen during the campaign would have been in the context of reporting. It has also said that "Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump have been personal friends of Mr. Pecker's for decades."

But if evidence shows that Cohen was consulting with American Media about the arrangement and that the intention of the deal was to protect Trump's election prospects, then the publisher and Cohen could be exposed to election law violations.

Corporations are barred from spending money to influence election outcomes in coordination with federal campaigns and candidates. Campaigns cannot accept individual donations of more than $5,400 per election cycle.

"If this money is spent in coordination with Trump or the campaign, then it's a contribution to Trump and the campaign, and then it's illegal," said Fred Wertheimer, founder of Democracy 21, a group supporting campaign finance regulation and enforcement.

In 2015, American Media paid $30,000 to a Trump Organization doorman who claimed to have damaging information. After the company bought the rights, The Enquirer chose not to run the story. Executives said that was because it did not check out.

In McDougal's case, American Media has argued that First Amendment protections cover the right to publish as much as the right not to publish.

Information for this article was contributed by Christian Berthelsen, Greg Farrell, Margaret Talev and Alan Levin of Bloomberg News; by Katie Rogers, Maggie Haberman, Jim Rutenberg and Ben Protess of The New York Times; and by Zeke Miller, Eric Tucker, Jennifer Peltz, Jake Pearson and Michael Balsamo of The Associated Press.

Karen McDougal
Photo by AP file photo
In this April 11, 2018, file photo, attorney Michael Cohen walks down the sidewalk in New York.
Photo by AP file photo
In this May 3, 2018, file photo, attorney Lanny Davis speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in his K Street office in Washington.

A Section on 07/22/2018

Print Headline: Cohen taping of '16 session vexes Trump

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Comments

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  • RBear
    July 22, 2018 at 6:15 a.m.

    Cohen's taping of the conversation is perfectly legal, regardless what Trump might think. You'd think that as a long-time resident of New York and a businessman in the state he'd know these laws which require only one party's consent. Regardless, it shows yet another example of how Trump and his advisers lied about the conversation and probably why they are afraid to allow Trump to be interviewed by Mueller. They are afraid of a perjury charge, the same charge that tripped up Clinton.

  • TimberTopper
    July 22, 2018 at 6:51 a.m.

    Trump probably is wondering and worried about what other evidence Cohen might have had that the feds have on him now.

  • PopMom
    July 22, 2018 at 7:51 a.m.

    RBear,

    The attorney-client privilege should be sacrosanct. While something may not be "illegal," it could be considered unethical. If Cohen had willing turned over the tape himself, it clearly would have been a knowing violation of the attorney-client privilege which should result in disbarment. In this case the feds got a hold of the tape without Cohen's permission. One could argue that Cohen had no business taping his clients without their consent as it served no purpose for the client. Cohen could argue that he did it as a way of keeping notes etc. I think it is unethical to tape your clients without their consent. It also is unwise as in this case it came back to hurt the client. Trump once again shows how stupid he is to be represented by a lawyer who went to the worst law school in the country. Once again, Trump is shown to be a liar. Nevertheless, I am concerned by the leaking of this information which should have been attorney-client privileged. The feds need to get to the truth on the Russian meddling and leave the sexual issues alone as long as they relate to consensual sex. Trump should have to turn over his tax returns so that we can discover the extent of his ties to Russia.

  • RBear
    July 22, 2018 at 8:04 a.m.

    PM not disagreeing on the A-C privilege point. But it happened and there’s nothing illegal about it. I’m guessing most knew Cohen was taping and the fact Trump insisted on using him as the “fixer” just highlights how inept he is at critical matters.

  • skeptic1
    July 22, 2018 at 8:23 a.m.

    Where's the crime?

  • WGT
    July 22, 2018 at 8:46 a.m.

    Cohen may have known Trump is notorious for tearing up documents once he has read them. A matter of posterity for being able to recall facts in future conversations and/or correspondence. Something will hamstring Trump. It may be a piece of information in the trove from Cohen, it may be in the trove Mueller has amassed. Nevertheless, Trump is a tragically flawed, unsympathetic, human (cough). His downfall is destined, the timing is not. What a sad example of human behavior.

  • PopMom
    July 22, 2018 at 9:28 a.m.

    skeptic,

    No crime by Trump on this issue of paying a mistress to be silent. He just once again shows that he is a liar and cheat, but that should surprise nobody at this point. Whenever he repeatedly says "There was no collusion", you know that there was.

  • skeptic1
    July 22, 2018 at 10:31 a.m.

    PopMom... "Whenever he repeatedly says "There was no collusion", you know that there was." Really, can you point to the evidence because so far all that is publicly known is that Hillary colluded with the Russians and paid for the phony Russian dossier? At some point the term "mirroring" has to be acknowledged.

  • Quackenfuss
    July 22, 2018 at 10:40 a.m.

    I clipped this directly from the article. It may well be the greatest quote in the history of newspaper publishing. To wit: "Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump have been personal friends of Mr. Pecker's for decades."

  • ARMNAR
    July 22, 2018 at 10:42 a.m.

    "There's absolutely NO evidence out there that Trump colluded with the Russians except the first Manafort thing, and the second Manafort thing, & the Manafort tampering with witnesses thing, & the jail thing, and the Flynn thing, and the Papadopoulos pleading guilty thing, and the Roger Stone thing, and the Russian military being charged thing, and a Russian spy who traded sex for favors in the White House thing, and the secret unrecorded unplugged calls to Putin from the White House thing, and the pee tape dossier thing, and the DJT "I don't want anyone in the room" when I meet with my handler thing, and the treason thing, and the Cohen getting caught lying about Prague thing, and the other Cohen things, and the Kushner thing, and the Carter Page thing, and the Jeff Sessions lying under oath & secretly meeting the Russians at the Mayflower Hotel things, and the Wilbur Ross thing, and the JD Gordon thing, and the Erik Prince thing, and the James Comey firing thing, and the Russian hacking/Wikileaks thing, and the bro-love between TrumPutin thing, and the Russian propaganda machine favoring Trump thing, and the DJT "I have zero ties to Russia!" thing, and the Eric Trump "we get most of our financing from Russian banks thing", and the Donald Trump Jr. "Our portfolio is made up of a disproportionate amount of Russian money" thing, and the Black Stone $540 million dollar thing, and the DJT "I sold a $60 million mansion to a Russian oligarch known for money laundering for $120 million that he never once lived in " thing, and the Trump business ties with Putin's favorite sports athlete Fedor Emilianenko thing, and the Trump International Corporation's mysterious private server connection to Alfa Bank, Russia's largest commercial bank thing, and the Special prosecutor being named thing, and the I won't release my tax returns thing, and the Ivanka Trump's vacationing with Putin's girlfriend thing, and the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow thing, and the Trump companies business ties to Felix Sater, a criminal felon indicted for stock fraud scheme with the Russian mafia thing, and the FL Group Icelandic hedge fund with massive ties to Putin being heavily invested in Trump Soho thing, and the $540 million dollar debt to Black Stone which is like owing money to the Russian mob thing, and the Rex Tillerson/Exxon ties to Russia thing, and the Russian ambassador at Trump Tower sneaking in and out thing, and the Trump tried to roll back Russian sanctions the minute he got elected thing. Other than that, there's absolutely no reason to suspect anything." - Anonymous

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