Berkeley Heights, New Jersey: US President Donald Trump lashed out at his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, on Saturday, suggesting that there could be legal consequences for Cohen, who recorded a discussion they had two months before the 2016 election about paying a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Trump.
“Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) — almost unheard of,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client — totally unheard of & perhaps illegal. The good news is that your favourite President did nothing wrong!”
With his tweet, Trump signalled open warfare on Cohen, a longtime fixer he had until now tried to keep by his side. Cohen has publicly discussed the idea of cooperating with the Justice Department as it investigates his involvement in paying women to quash potentially damaging news stories about Trump during the campaign.
Trump, who left Washington on Friday to spend the weekend at his New Jersey golf course, added another chaotic twist to a head-spinning week that began with a widely condemned news conference with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, in Helsinki.
The president’s aides, who spent the first part of the week frantically trying to figure out how to clean up the aftermath of the news conference, have had little to say about accusations by women that Trump’s lawyers had paid them for their silence in the wake of extramarital affairs.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday, but in the past, the president’s aides have called the account of the affair by the former model, Karen McDougal, “an old story that is just more fake news,” and have denied that the president was involved.
The recording is sure to raise new questions about what the president knew about the payments and when.
McDougal says she began a nearly yearlong affair with Trump in 2006, shortly after Trump’s wife, Melania, gave birth to their son Barron.
McDougal sold her story for $150,000 (Dh550,875) to The National Enquirer, which was supportive of Trump, during the final months of the presidential campaign. But the tabloid sat on the story, which kept it from becoming public. The practice, known as “catch and kill,” effectively silenced McDougal for the remainder of the campaign.
On the recording, Trump and Cohen were discussing payments to American Media Inc., or AMI, the parent company of The Enquirer, whose chairman, David J. Pecker, is friendly with the president. The recording was found during an FBI raid on Cohen’s office earlier this year.
When The Wall Street Journal reported on AMI’s payments to McDougal days before the election, the Trump campaign denied knowing about them.
“We have no knowledge of any of this,” Hope Hicks, the campaign spokeswoman, said at the time, adding that McDougal’s claim of an affair was “totally untrue.”
On his way to his golf club in Bedminster, the president ignored several questions from reporters about why his campaign would have denied knowledge of the payments if he was on tape discussing them with Cohen.
Hours later, the president was on Twitter, suggesting that what Cohen had done was illegal.
New York law allows one party to a conversation to tape it without the other knowing. Over the years, Cohen, in his dealings on Trump’s behalf with journalists, opposing lawyers and business adversaries, frequently taped his conversations, unbeknown to the people with whom he was speaking. Trump himself also has a history of recording phone calls and conversations.
Trump’s advisers have viewed the Cohen investigation as a potentially greater risk to the president than the special counsel inquiry, given Cohen’s one-time status as the keeper of Trump’s personal and business secrets.