By Eric Beech, Karen Freifeld and Warren Strobel
U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday expressed disbelief that his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen would have taped conversations with him, a day after an audio recording of a conversation between the two men was aired on U.S. television
A lawyer for Cohen, Lanny Davis, released the recording of Trump and Cohen discussing paying for the rights to a Playboy model‘s story about an alleged affair with Trump and it aired on CNN on Tuesday Night.
Government watchdog group Common Cause has said that the proposed payment benefited Trump’s presidential election campaign and the failure to document it was potentially illegal.
Some legal experts, however, say that if the payment was made for personal reasons, it would not run afoul of federal election laws.
Under U.S. election law, presidential candidates must disclose expenses, loans and campaign contributions, which are defined as things of value given to a campaign in order to influence an election.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has said the proposed payment was a personal matter and not subject to campaign finance law.
Before the election, Trump’s campaign denied any knowledge of payment to McDougal, but the taped conversation could undermine those denials
“What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So sad! Is this a first, never heard of it before? Why was the tape so abruptly terminated (cut) while I was presumably saying positive things? I hear there are other clients and many reporters that are taped – can this be so? Too bad!” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.
Davis told CNN he released the tape to dispute an assertion by Giuliani that the tape would show that Trump made clear that if there were going to be a payment, it should be done by cheque, which would be easily traced. Giuliani has said the payment was never made.
In the recording, Trump can be heard saying “pay with cash.” Cohen counters by repeatedly saying, “No.”
According to Giuliani, in his transcript of the recording, Trump says on the tape: “Don’t pay with cash. Cheque.”
Reuters was unable to verify the entire exchange between the two men because of the poor sound quality of the recording. Davis and Giuliani did not respond to a request for further comment.
In an interview with ABC News, Davis disputed Giuliani’s characterization of the call and said they method of payment was beside the point
“It’s not about cash versus noncash. It’s about truth,” Davis said on “Good Morning America” on Wednesday.
The debate over whether Trump was advocating for payments via cash or cheque is “irrelevant” in determining whether he violated campaign finance laws, said Joshua Douglas, a professor of election law at the University of Kentucky.
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