US President Donald Trump has denied breaking electoral laws a day after reports his one-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen recorded their discussion about buying the rights to a story by a woman who said she had an affair with Trump.
In a further indication of a growing rift between attorney Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s longtime “fixer”, and the embattled president, the president tweeted that it might be illegal for a lawyer to record a client.
A lawyer for Cohen immediately returned fire, branding Trump’s statement “false”.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Reuters on Friday that Cohen recorded a conversation with Trump in September, two months before the 2016 election, in which they discussed buying the rights to a story by a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, who said she had an affair with Trump.
On Saturday, Giuliani told Reuters the conversation was held at Trump’s office in Trump Tower and that Cohen used a hidden device to record the conversation. In New York state, it is legal to record a conversation if one party consents.
Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) – almost unheard of. 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 21, 2018
Giuliani said no campaign funding was involved in the discussion between Trump and Cohen, who has distanced himself from Trump in recent months as the FBI investigates Cohen’s business dealings. If campaign funds were used, that could run foul of federal election law, legal experts say.
In a tweet on Saturday, Lanny Davis, a lawyer for Cohen, called Trump and Giuliani’s strategy “flawed” and the president’s Twitter statement against Cohen “false”.
Before the election, the Trump campaign denied any knowledge of payment to McDougal, but the taped conversation could undermine those denials.
Speaking on Friday, Giuliani said the FBI seized the recording this year during a raid on Cohen’s office.
Giuliani said the conversation involved reimbursing the parent company of the National Enquirer tabloid for McDougal’s story rights. The payment was never made, he said.
“It’s pretty clear from the tape, it’s the first time Trump is finding out … AMI had bought the rights from McDougal,” Giuliani said in a short interview on Saturday.
AMI, American Media Inc, is the parent company of the National Enquirer. Giuliani added that Cohen was speaking with Trump to tell him that information and Cohen recommended Trump buy the rights from AMI.
Giuliani had earlier denied Trump had an affair with McDougal. He said the tape would show that Trump makes clear that if there is going to be a payment, it should be done by cheque, which would be easily traced.
McDougal has said she began a nearly year-long affair with Trump in 2006 shortly after his wife, Melania, gave birth.
She sold her story for (US)$150,000 in August 2016 but it was never published by the National Enquirer, a practice known as “catch and kill” to prevent a potentially damaging story from becoming public.
David Pecker, the chairman of parent company AMI, is a close friend and political ally of Trump and conservatives in general.
It was the National Enquirer‘s sister tabloid, Star Magazine, which promoted Gennifer Flowers’ accusations against Bill Clinton’s – claims that brought out other complainants and led indirectly to his unsuccessful impeachment by congressional Republicans.
The New Yorker reported in February that Trump had an affair with McDougal at the same time he was in a relationship with porn star Stormy Daniels and that the National Enquirer prevented McDougal’s story being made public.
The White House has said Trump denies having sex with Daniels.