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What does Trump on tape reveal about the plan to pay off a former Playboy model?

The president’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen released a recording of then-candidate Trump in which they seem to discuss a possible payment to the chief of a media company that reportedly agreed to pay a former Playboy model for her story alleging an affair with Trump. Yamiche Alcindor reports, then Judy Woodruff gets analysis from former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The fallout continued today from a secret recording of then candidate Donald Trump discussing hush money to a former Playboy model.

    Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Well, thank you very much.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The big topic at the White House today was supposed to be trade, but when President Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker ended the public portion of the meeting, they were sprayed with questions about something entirely different.

  • Question:

    Did Michael Cohen betray you?

  • President Donald Trump:

    Thank you very much.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    This new talk about the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen comes as a new recording has been made public. A September 2016 conversation between Cohen and then candidate Donald Trump.

    CNN, the first news outlet to obtain the tape, reported that it got the recording from Cohen's legal team.

    In the recording, which Cohen's legal team declined to provide to the "NewsHour," Cohen seems to be discussing a possible way to send payments to David, David Pecker, chairman of America Media, Inc., which owns The National Enquirer tabloid.

    (AUDIO RECORDING)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Days before the 2016 election, The Wall Street Journal reported that American Media agreed to pay $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal for her story alleging that she had an affair with Mr. Trump a decade ago, a story that American Media never ran.

    In the report, the company disputed the characterization of the payment. And then-spokeswoman Hope Hicks responded on behalf of the Trump campaign, "We have no knowledge of any of this."

    Today, the dispute between lawyers for the two men was over what was actually said in the recording about how the payment to Pecker could be made.

    Lanny Davis, an attorney for Cohen, told ABC this-

  • Lanny Davis:

    The word is cash. Everybody should listen to the tape to see whether I'm right or not.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    While Rudy Giuliani, a personal attorney for Mr. Trump, wrote, "Why are Cohen and Lanny Davis misrepresenting the language from President Trump? Do not pay by cash. Check."

    The apparent break between President Trump and his longtime associate comes despite Cohen's past statements of loyalty. He told "Vanity Fair" magazine for an article last year, "I'm the guy who would take a bullet for the president."

    But, since then, it has become public that federal authorities in New York are investigating Cohen.

    And Davis, Cohen's current lawyer, told ABC Cohen's priorities have changed.

  • Lanny Davis:

    He's now dedicated to telling the truth to everyone, and we will see what happens.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    As for the why behind Cohen's apparent break from Mr. Trump, today, Davis denied that Cohen was still seeking a pardon from the president.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A note, the CNN reporter whom we heard just ask the president if attorney Michael Cohen betrayed him was a little later barred by the White House from attending an open press event in the Rose Garden.

    Kaitlan Collins was told by the deputy White House chief of staff and the press secretary that her questions were, "inappropriate."

    We take a closer look now at what we know about the president's former lawyer and his legal troubles with attorney Renato Mariotti. He's a former federal prosecutor. He currently works in private practice in Chicago.

    Renato Mariotti, thank you for joining us.

    What do you hear in that recording that's significant?

  • Renato Mariotti:

    Well, one thing they hear, Judy, is a discussion that makes it clear that the president is familiar with this transaction, that he knows the circumstances of it.

    He does not seem surprised by the subject at all. That would make it very difficult for the president or his legal team to say later that the president had no knowledge of this matter.

    It also — you know, the fact that he talks in the plural suggests that this isn't the first time that he's dealt with a situation like this. You know, if I had asked you — if I demanded payment from you for information, you — I'm sure you would have a lot of questions about it. You would want to know how you could be sure that the story wouldn't get published, and you would have a lot of questions about the details.

    You know, there's really not a lot of questions here. This seems almost like a standard transaction. The president suggests a number, 150, very quickly. And then there's obviously this whole — as you played a moment ago, this whole discussion of cash.

    And regardless of how you read the conversation, whether you accept Mr. Giuliani's version or the version of Mr. Cohen's lawyer put forward, the fact that a lawyer was discussing whether or not to pay in cash for a large financial transaction is very unusual.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what does this mean in terms of legal jeopardy, either for Michael Cohen, who we believe to be under investigation, or for President Trump?

    Do you hear anything that crosses the line?

  • Renato Mariotti:

    Well, certainly, this is a — this is a problem for — in terms of campaign finance violations.

    What's been reported is that Mr. Cohen is under investigation for both campaign finance violations and for fraud. And as to the campaign finance violations, there's discussion on this tape of another related — sort of related matter, that there — that the president suggests could be pushed off until after the election.

    There is a — there's an issue of timing there. And I think that's important, because what the legal issue is regarding campaign finance is whether or not these payments to women would be considered an expense that is related to the campaign.

    Typically, the president would have, I think, a very strong defense that anyone would want to hide their — you know, their personal affairs from the public or from others and to protect their spouse and their family, regardless of whether they're in the middle of a campaign.

    The fact, though, that during the same conversation, the president is talking about timing and it appears to be related to pushing something off after the election suggests that the purpose of this conversation and of the payment was related to the election.

    And I think that, in particular, would be problematic. And like I said earlier, the mere fact that the president knows about the payment and knows the specifics also could potentially create problems for him when combined with other evidence.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, we know that this recording was — they waived the right of privilege here in making it public.

    I think there's some — I think I don't — and many others who don't know the law want to understand, why would that be? Why would they waive the privilege of the president, the client speaking to his lawyer?

  • Renato Mariotti:

    Well, Judy, you and the viewers at home aren't the only ones who want to know that.

    Many lawyers have asked me that question over the last week, because, typically — or over the last 24 hours — because, typically, lawyers are very reluctant to waive privilege. Not only is it because you can't take that waiver back once you have waved it, but sometimes waiving privilege over one recording or one document opens up the privilege as to other documents and recordings, because courts don't want to let you — don't want you to use privilege as a way of unmasking only certain things, to waive privilege over the documents or the recordings that are helpful to you and maintain privilege as to others.

    So, often, that can mean that the privilege is waived as to a number of documents or a number of recordings. So, typically, attorneys are very reluctant to waive privilege. There's really no legal strategy that can explain why they have waived privilege here.

    That must be a P.R. or press strategy or something unrelated to the legal strategy here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just very quickly, Renato Mariotti, what questions do you have after this that are not answered?

  • Renato Mariotti:

    The question is — the questions I have relate to the fraud charges that are supposedly under investigation by federal prosecutors.

    We still don't know what they're looking at or what those charges are centered around.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, now this and a number of other things are raising questions we're all seeking answers to.

    Renato Mariotti, thank you very much.

  • Renato Mariotti:

    Thank you, Judy.

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