CNN's Chris Cuomo released an audio recording of a conversation, which took place in September 2016 between then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen. The men were discussing buying the rights to a story by then-Playboy model Karen McDougall, who allegedly had an affair with Trump in 2006. Trump had no knowledge he'd been recorded.
American Media, Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer, paid $150,000 for the rights to McDougall's story and sat on it. This move is known in tabloid journalism as a "catch and kill." The tabloid's chairman, David Pecker, is a friend of Trump's.
Although discussions between a lawyer and a client are protected by attorney-privilege laws, Trump waived this right. He and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, believe that the release of the tapes will help his case.
The entire recorded conversation can be heard at 0:45 in the video below. The relevant portion begins at 5:10 and the specific words in dispute can be heard at 5:48.
The two sides are arguing over whether Trump says, "I don't want to pay cash" or "I want to pay cash."
(After listening to this clip over and over again, I cannot determine if Trump did or did not say "don't" before "pay cash." The recording is so garbled at that point that it's difficult to say for sure. Listen to the recording and see what you think. A forensic analyst should be able to give a definitive answer.)
Michael Cohen replies, "No (pause) no, no, no, no. I got it. No, no, no."
Trump asks, "check?"
The tape then cuts off, but it's clear he has said the word "check" in a questioning tone.
The more important question is why does it end abruptly just as Trump is saying, "check?" Why not offer listeners something more that might provide context to the dialog?
Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani, and Cohen's attorney Lanny Davis both offered their takes on the recording Tuesday night.
Rudy Giuliani was questioned by Laura Ingraham. His comments can be heard on the video below. Giuliani insists that Trump said, "don't pay cash." He claims that Trump is helped by the release of this recording.
He questions why the tape cuts off so abruptly and speculates that there may have something exculpatory for Trump or else damning for Cohen, that Cohen and his attorney wanted to conceal. That makes sense. If the opposite were true, they surely would have included it.
Lanny Davis spoke to CNN's Chris Cuomo. (Can be viewed at 7:40 on the first of the three videos in the post.) Let me preface this by saying that I've never been a Lanny Davis fan. Not at all. So, in the same cringe-worthy, self-righteous way in which Davis defended the defenseless Hillary Clinton throughout her presidential campaign, he explains how damaging this recording is to Trump.
Because everybody heard Donald Trump just now say the word cash...[Davis repeats the word] cash...after Mr. Cohen mentioned financing. [When] Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump, through Mr. Giuliani, accused my client, Mr. Cohen, of saying the word cash. And I posted a tweet at the time, and I said wait for the tapes. Richard Nixon couldn't spin the tape that did him in and there's no way Mr. Giuliani, who knows from being US attorney, that the only people who use cash are drug dealers and mobsters. Cash is not what you do. And it was Michael Cohen who said, no, no, no, no, and Donald Trump, despite what Rudy Giuliani said publicly, the tape contradicts Mr. Giuliani and the word "cash" was heard by everyone.
When Chris Cuomo puts up a visual of Giuliani's take on the tape, Davis grins and then laughs. Then he draws his comparisons to Nixon and mobsters a second time and laughs.
Davis makes the point that Trump was not hearing about Karen McDougall for the first time and he is correct. Trump does not require an explanation from Cohen.
This brings us to the analysis of Harvard Law Professor and Fox News contributor Alan Dershowitz, who explains why this tape does not prove a crime. (Please see video below for his full analysis.)
Not even close. No crimes here. This was a conversation between a client and his attorney that should never have been heard even if - and the tape is unclear - Trump raised the word cash, there was then a discussion and the lawyer said "no, no, no" and President Trump said no, we'll do it by check. Lawyers and clients have those conversations all the time. I've had discussions like that with clients. The end result is that cash was not used, no payments were made.
The context of the tape all suggests that the President wanted it to be on paper. They wanted it to be a corporation, not just a payment, he wanted to make sure it was done right. He wanted to make sure it was done with records. And so, I think the big picture is no crime. It sounds like Cohen is not as loyal to the President as he once was. It also suggests that this conversation never should have been heard by any of us.
Some final thoughts:
- Whether Trump said "pay cash" or "don't pay cash" on Cohen's tape is irrelevant according to attorney Alan Dershowitz. He says that no crimes were committed.
- When Michael Cohen brings up the subject of Karen McDougall, Trump is clearly familiar with it. He is not hearing about this for the first time.
- Regardless of what Trump said on this tape, it has no relevance to the special counsel investigation into possible Russian collusion. It's just a sophomoric attempt to embarrass Trump. Alan Dershowitz said that, if Cohen turns out to be the person who leaked it, he may be in legal jeopardy.
- This should be of no concern to anyone but Melania Trump. Americans do not care who Trump may or may not have slept with in 2006. To quote our friend Hillary Clinton, "What difference, at this point, does it make?"
- A lawyer who records a private conversation with a client will probably never practice law again.
- It's safe to say that Michael Cohen won't be receiving a presidential pardon anytime soon.