President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel faces double-edged sword with Alex Jones, Roger Stone Trump goes after Woodward, Costa over China Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE's longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen secretly taped a conversation he had with the president ahead of the 2016 election about paying a Playboy model who says she had an affair with Trump — and the FBI has the tape, according to an explosive new report in The New York Times.
The FBI seized the secret recording made by Cohen during a raid on his offices earlier this year, the Times reported Friday.
The Times reports that Cohen and Trump reportedly discussed a payment to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who says she had a yearlong affair with Trump starting in 2006, shortly after he married now-first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpRNC pushes back against call for chair's resignation over LGBT outreach Trump Tower bar selling presidential cocktail with side of Diet Coke, beef sliders Cheney knocks Ted Cruz: 'A real man would be defending his wife' MORE. The conversation took place two months ahead of the 2016 election.
The Washington Post also reported that the FBI seized a tape of Cohen's that discusses payments involving McDougal, but it had some conflicting details. It said that Trump and Cohen were discussing a payment for McDougal's story about her alleged affair.
American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, purchased the rights to McDougal's story in August 2016 for $150,000 but never ran the piece.
Trump and Cohen discussed buying McDougal's story from AMI during the recorded conversation, according to the Post. The newspaper reported that it's unclear why the men ultimately did not buy the story but they were reportedly discussing the same amount that the publisher paid McDouga.
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani confirmed to the Post that the recording existed, but did not discuss details and said a payment was never made.
Giuliani asserted that the recording lasts less than two minutes and shows that Trump did nothing wrong.
“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance,” Giuliani said of the payment.
Cohen's legal team said the tape would not hurt their client.
“Obviously, there is an ongoing investigation, and we are sensitive to that," Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, said in a statement. "But suffice it to say that when the recording is heard, it will not hurt Mr. Cohen. Any attempt at spin can not change what is on the tape.”
Trump aides said shortly after the raids on Cohen’s office and home that the lawyer had a habit of secretly recording conversations, and expressed concerns that federal investigators could have tapes of conversations between Trump and Cohen.
Giuliani told the newspaper that, during the recorded conversation, Trump told Cohen to make the payment in the form of a check so it could be documented.
“In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence,” Giuliani said.
Then-Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope HicksHope HicksWhite House orders release of Trump records to Jan. 6 committee Grisham calls Kushner 'Rasputin in a slim-fitting suit' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US prepares vaccine booster plan MORE said shortly before the 2016 election that McDougal's allegations of an affair with Trump were "totally untrue."
The Wall Street Journal reported just days before Election Day 2016 that the publisher of the National Enquirer had purchased McDougal’s story about her alleged affair with Trump but never ran the piece, a process known as “catch and kill.”
The former Playboy model sued American Media Inc. over the deal earlier this year. The company settled the lawsuit in April, freeing her from their contract.
American Media Inc. Chairman David Pecker is a longtime friend of Trump.
Federal investigators are looking at Cohen over possible bank fraud and campaign finance law violations, including a $130,000 nondisclosure payment made in 2016 to adult-film star Stormy Daniels.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is suing Trump in an attempt to void the nondisclosure agreement. She is also suing both Trump and Cohen for libel for denying her claims of an affair.
Giuliani revealed earlier this year that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the payment to Daniels, despite the president previously denying any knowledge of the payment.
Cohen has recently sought to distance himself from Trump, fueling rumors that he could be preparing to cooperate with federal prosecutors.
--Updated at 2:20 p.m.