The tape was made by his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen, who no longer represents Trump but is under federal investigation, the New York Times said in a report that will fuel speculation about how much damage Cohen can inflict on Trump.
US President Donald Trump was secretly taped two months before the 2016 election discussing payments to a former model, with whom he allegedly had an affair, and the recording is in FBI hands, a bombshell report claimed on Friday.
The tape was made by his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen, who no longer represents Trump but is under federal investigation in New York for his business dealings and reportedly whether hush payments violated campaign finance laws.
The FBI seized the recording earlier this year during a raid on Cohen’s office, The New York Times said in an explosive revelation, quoting lawyers and others familiar with the recording. Cohen has not yet been arrested or charged.
TRT World spoke to Lionel Donovan, who is following the developments from Washington, DC.
Trump denies wrongdoing
Trump on Saturday denied any wrongdoing and said in a tweet it was “perhaps illegal” for a lawyer to record a client.
An attorney for Cohen called Trump’s statement “false.”
“Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) - almost unheard of,” Trump tweeted, in an apparent reference to an FBI raid on Cohen in April.
The report will fuel speculation about how much damage Cohen can inflict on Trump. In one recent interview, he apparently signalled a potential willingness to cooperate with prosecutors against the Republican president.
Former 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.
Trump’s current personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, confirmed the veracity of the recording to the Times, but said the payment to McDougal was never made, and that the US president had not been party to any wrongdoing.
The recording was less than two minutes, Giuliani told the newspaper.
“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance,” Giuliani was quoted as saying. “In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence,” he added.
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.
Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, declined to comment when contacted by AFP. “We have nothing to say on this matter,” he told the Times.
TRT World's Staci Bivens reports.
McDougal and Stormy
The FBI raided Cohen’s 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.
The Justice Department says Cohen has been under investigation for months for criminal conduct largely centred on his personal business dealings.
Cohen raised speculation this month that he might be willing to cooperate with prosecutors.
“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 released on July 2.
Prosecutors are apparently interested in payments he made on Trump’s behalf to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, and other business dealings related to Trump.
Both Daniels and McDougal allege they had affairs with Trump around the same time, in 2006.
In 2016, McDougal sold her story to The National Enquirer for $150,000, but the tabloid sat on it, preventing it from becoming public. In April, American Media agreed to release her from the deal after she filed a lawsuit.
McDougal accused the group, whose chairman is a Trump friend, of misleading her into signing the contract and Cohen of intervening inappropriately.
Cohen, who became Trump’s personal lawyer in 2007, is infamous for paying $130,000 to Daniels — real name, Stephanie Clifford — shortly before the 2016 election to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Trump, also in 2006.
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 a relationship with Daniels.