US president lashes out over claims he paid off model he allegedly had affair with
Trump finds it 'inconceivable' lawyer would tape a client
Donald Trump said on Saturday he found it "inconceivable" that a lawyer would tape a client, as the US president weighed in after the disclosure that in the weeks before the 2016 election, his then-personal attorney secretly recorded their discussion about a potential payment over a former Playboy model's account of having an affair with the politician.
The recording was part of a large collection of documents and electronic records seized this year by federal authorities from Michael Cohen, Mr Trump's the long-time fixer.
In a tweet, Mr Trump called such taping "totally unheard of & perhaps illegal". He also asserted, without elaborating, in the post: "The good news is that your favourite President did nothing wrong!"
Mr Cohen had made a practice of recording conversations, unbeknown to those he was speaking with. Most states, including New York, allow for recordings of conversations with only the consent of one party. Other states require all parties to agree to a recording or have mixed laws on the matter. It was not clear where Mr Trump and Mr Cohen were located at the time of the call.
Mr Cohen's recording adds to questions about whether Mr Trump tried to quash damaging stories before the election. The campaign office of Mr Trump had said it knew nothing about any payment to Karen McDougal.
Transparency groups and Democrats have argued that the secret efforts to silence Mr Trump's accusers, including a payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, should be investigated by the Federal Election Commission as potential breaches of campaign finance laws, which require disclosure of campaign expenditures. Mr Trump's lawyers have argued that any payments to accusers would have been made regardless of his presidential candidacy, and that no breach occurred.
The recording could also further entangle the president in a criminal investigation that for months has targeted Mr Cohen.
The erstwhile Trump loyalist has hired a new lawyer, Clinton White House veteran Lanny Davis, and disassociated himself from the president as both remain under investigation. Mr Cohen has not been charged with a crime.
Mr Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani has said the payment was never made and the brief recording shows Mr Trump did nothing wrong.
"The transaction that Michael is talking about on the tape never took place, but what's important is: If it did take place, the president said it has to be done correctly and it has to be done by cheque" to keep a proper record of it, Mr Giuliani said.
Davis said "any attempt at spin cannot change what is on the tape."
"When the recording is heard, it will not hurt Mr Cohen," Mr Davis said in a statement.
The recording was first reported on Friday by The New York Times.
The FBI raided Mr Cohen's office, home and hotel room in April, searching in part for information about payments to Ms McDougal and adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who received a $130,000 payment from Mr Cohen before the election to keep quiet about a sexual relationship she says she had with Mr Trump.
The FBI investigation is separate from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of election interference in 2016 and potential obstruction of justice by those in the president's orbit.
Referring to that raid, Mr Trump called it "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." In past comments Mr Trump has also referred to the court-ordered seizure as a "break-in", although Mr Cohen has been more sanguine, saying the FBI agents were courteous and respectful.
A self-described fixer for Mr Trump for more than a decade, Mr Cohen said last year he would "take a bullet" for Mr Trump. But he told ABC News in an interview broadcast this month that he now puts "family and country first" and won't let anyone paint him as "a villain of this story".
On Twitter, he scrubbed mentions and photos of Mr Trump from a profile that previously identified him as "Personal attorney to President Donald J Trump".