US President Donald Trump was secretly taped by his longtime lawyer discussing payments to a former Playboy model, with whom he allegedly had an affair, and the recording is in FBI hands, The New York Times reported Friday.
The lawyer, Michael Cohen — who no longer represents Trump — is being investigated over payments made to women to hush up embarrassing news stories about the now commander-in-chief ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether such payments violated campaign finance laws, and whether Cohen committed other financial crimes. He has not yet been arrested or charged.
The FBI seized the recording earlier this year during a raid on Cohen’s office, The New York Times said in a bombshell revelation, quoting lawyers and others familiar with the recording.
The report will fuel speculation about how much damage Cohen — who has signalled a potential willingness to cooperate with prosecutors against the president in order to avoid arrest — could cause for Trump.
Trump’s current personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, confirmed the veracity of the recording to the Times, but added that the payment was never made, and said the Republican president had not been party to any wrongdoing.
The FBI raided his home and office in April on a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.
Cohen’s lawyers discovered the recording as part of a review of the materials seized in the raid and shared it with Trump’s attorneys, the Times reported.
“To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty,” Cohen told ABC News in an interview broadcast on July 2.
McDougal and Stormy
Former Playboy model Karen McDougal says she had a months-long affair with Trump after they met in 2006, shortly after Trump’s wife Melania gave birth to their son Barron. She told CNN previously that he tried to pay her for sex.
McDougal’s story echoes allegations of an affair between Trump and the porn actress Stormy Daniels — real name, Stephanie Clifford — during the same period.
Cohen, who became Trump’s personal lawyer in 2007, is infamous for paying $130,000 to Daniels shortly before the 2016 election to keep quiet about her alleged 2006 affair with Trump.
Cohen initially said he used his own money to pay Daniels and was not reimbursed by Trump. The US president has subsequently conceded that Cohen was paid back, despite initially denying knowledge of the payment.
Through White House officials, Trump has denied having relationships with Daniels.