Former Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen Gives Audiotape To CNN
NOEL KING, HOST:
We've known since last week that there are tapes of Michael Cohen talking with his then-client Donald Trump. Now, we can hear that audio. CNN released parts of it last night. The recording is of a meeting between Cohen and Trump that happened two months before the 2016 election. And the two men appear to be discussing payments to a news organization to suppress a story about a model's alleged affair with Trump. Cohen's lawyer gave the tape to CNN and President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is taking issue with how the tape is being interpreted.
Robert Costa with The Washington Post has listened through to the tape. He joins us now from New York. Good morning, Robert.
ROBERT COSTA: Good to join you.
KING: All right. I want to play you two quick bits from this tape. The first is Michael Cohen talking to Donald Trump.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MICHAEL COHEN: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David.
KING: And then a couple minutes later, much less audibly, Trump responds and then we hear Cohen again.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So what are we going to (unintelligible)?
COHEN: Funding - yes. And it's all the stuff.
COHEN: All the stuff because...
KING: OK. Admittedly, that is hard to hear. But what are they saying. What does this tape appear to show?
COSTA: In brief, American Media Incorporated, whose chief executive is David Pecker - the David being referenced - had signed a $150,000 deal with the model, Karen McDougal, who had alleged an affair with then-candidate Trump in August of 2016. And they're discussing that payment.
KING: There have been all of these questions about who knew what and when. Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, says this tape shows that this is the first time President Trump is hearing about this possible deal to suppress the story. President Trump has said that himself. He knew nothing about it. Is that what you're hearing?
COSTA: Well, this tape is a Rosetta Stone. It's open to interpretation. But I was arguing in a sense with Mayor Giuliani last night as a reporter. He kept telling me it's open to interpretation. But it's clear that the president is not surprised by the conversation during this exchange with Michael Cohen. But the level of his familiarity is going to be a real point of scrutiny in the coming days. What did the president know? How much was he familiar with what Michael Cohen was doing?
KING: Is the Trump campaign now acknowledging that an affair took place and a payoff took place?
COSTA: They're not acknowledging anything. But you see Michael Cohen acknowledging that he was making an effort to establish some kind of legal entity to make a payment to Karen McDougal. And you see the president - then a candidate - being looped into that conversation, being recorded by Michael Cohen. This is all about Michael Cohen facing possible charges, signaling cooperation, signaling to the feds what he knows.
KING: I know you've been talking to people today about President Trump's mood at the moment. What are you hearing? Is the president worried about this?
COSTA: White House officials and Giuliani tell me that the president is deeply disappointed with Michael Cohen. This was his fixer, his lawyer, his friend. And then he feels really surprised that Cohen was recording it. Then again, candidate Trump, President Trump, has had a history of recording their own discussions over the decades. But you see now the president using Twitter as a way to lash out and to respond.
KING: What is the significance of this tape from Michael Cohen? Does this help him with his legal troubles at all?
COSTA: At this point, his legal troubles remain to be determined. He's not facing a charge, though some people close to him expect he could face a charge, perhaps revolving around an election law and how he handled this whole payment. But he's trying to show, as the Mueller investigation continues - the special counsel looking into Russian interference - that he has material. Talking to his lawyer Lanny Davis last night, you clearly see Michael Cohen's side of this whole arrangement and this debate saying that they're willing to work with investigators.
KING: Robert Costa of The Washington Post, thank you so much.
COSTA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.