On Monday night, CNN aired an audio recording of a phone conversation the president and his then lawyer Michael Cohen that took place in the month before the 2016 election. In the brief conversation, which lasts less than two minutes, the men discuss the need to keep various stories under wrap, particularly the need to restrict access to the divorce papers in Trump’s first marriage. They also discuss the financing of the payout The National Enquirer was making to Karen McDougal. They agree that it was unwise to leave the settlement with someone Cohen refers to as “our friend David” (likely David Pecker, CEO of the company that owns The National Enquirer). As Trump notes, “maybe he gets hit by a truck.” The idea here is that any information acquired by The National Enquirer wasn’t safe with them but needed to be in the hands of Trump and his people.
The audio is of poor quality and some of the words are garbled. But this conversation is noteworthy:
COHEN: And, I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with …
TRUMP: So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?
COHEN: … Funding . . . Yes. Um, and it’s all the stuff.
TRUMP: Yeah, I was thinking about that.
COHEN: All the stuff. Because — here, you never know where that company — you never know what he’s —
TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.
COHEN: Correct. So, I’m all over that. And, I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing, which will be —
TRUMP: Wait a sec, what financing?
COHEN: Well, I’ll have to pay him something.
TRUMP: [UNINTELLIGIBLE] pay with cash.
COHEN: No, no, no, no, no. I got it.
Trump’s lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Alan Futerfas have made conflicting claims about this discussion. Giuliani claims that Trump was saying “don’t pay with cash.” Futerfas acknowledges Trump was saying “pay with cash” but contends that this merely meant the payment should be made from money on hand, not a loan.
The issue of cash or check is, in some ways, immaterial. The key fact is that Trump knew about the payment to McDougal and the deal was made for campaign purposes, which means it could run afoul of campaign financing laws.