'NYT' Reports Michael Cohen Recorded Conversation With Trump About Playboy Payments
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
There are tapes. The New York Times reports that President Trump's longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen recorded a conversation in which he and he president discussed hush money for a former Playboy model who claimed she had an affair with Trump. The conversation took place just two months before the 2016 presidential election. The tapes were seized earlier this year when the FBI raided Cohen's office. Matt Apuzzo is one of the New York Times reporters covering this story and joins us now. Hi, Matt.
MATT APUZZO: Hey, Ari, how's it going?
SHAPIRO: All right. Remind us who was being paid in this particular instance and why.
APUZZO: Right. So this is one of the women who claims to have had an affair with Donald Trump. Karen McDougal is a former Playboy model. She says she had an affair about a decade ago with Donald Trump shortly after the birth of Donald Trump's son Baron. And during the last months of the campaign, she sold the rights to her story about the affair to the National Enquirer. And it turns out that that sale of about $150,000 appears to have been part of what's known as a capture-and-kill operation in which a tabloid buys a story and then never runs it...
APUZZO: ...To make sure that nobody knows about it. So the effect was this stayed out of the public light during the last...
SHAPIRO: What else can you tell us about what Cohen and Trump allegedly said on this call?
APUZZO: So the Trump side of this - Trump account of the conversation has changed a little bit since we first reported the story. When we first reported the story, Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, said that what they were discussing was whether to make a payment to Ms. McDougal personally. And then after about a couple hours, Mr. Giuliani said, no, what we were actually - what they were actually talking about was whether - that Cohen should try to buy the rights to the story from the National Enquirer, so essentially reimbursing the National Enquirer for the rights.
SHAPIRO: It's not the first time that the administration's story about payments to women over alleged affairs has changed. What could the legal implications of this be coming just two months before the election?
APUZZO: Right. So I think there's two things going on there, Ari. I think the first is legally, the Justice Department is investigating, were these types of payments actually a violation of campaign finance laws, which is interesting in and of themselves. People around Trump say, you know, look; we don't think this is a legal problem, but we recognize it's kind of a potentially political problem because after all, they did deny knowing anything about the very payments they are now on tape talking about.
SHAPIRO: Right. More broadly, if you take a step back, what's the connection between this Michael Cohen case and the larger Mueller investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election?
APUZZO: Great question. So the Mueller investigation was looking at Michael Cohen because he's the fixer and lawyer for the president. But because it kind of veered off into all these weird avenues - Stormy Daniels, McDougal and Playboy and the National Enquirer - they actually farmed it out to the Southern District of New York. And so there's - that investigation is proceeding on its own. But if Cohen were to flip and cooperate with the feds, they could actually kick the information back to Mueller. So it is - they are both separate but related.
SHAPIRO: Just in our last 30 seconds or so, I've been trying to clearly parse what the White House says about whether President Trump had the affair and whether President Trump knew about or made the payment. And I haven't been able to decipher it. Can you give us a clear answer on that?
APUZZO: You think there's a clear answer? There's not a clear answer, Ari. I mean, they've said they know nothing about this payment, and now they're on tape talking about this payment. And - but they still say there was no affair. So, you know, all in due course. The story's shifted in the past couple hours, so we're along for the ride.
SHAPIRO: All right, Matt Apuzzo of The New York Times, thanks for joining us again.
APUZZO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.