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The other major story about the White House today centers on the secret recording of a conversation between candidate Donald Trump and his longtime personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen. The two men discussed buying the rights to the story of a Playboy playmate who alleges she had an affair with Trump. NPR's Ryan Lucas is here to walk us through what it all means. First, Ryan, I want to actually play a bit of this tape. This will give us an idea of the conversation between the president and Michael Cohen. And just a heads up for our listener - the quality is not very good, so it's difficult to understand.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So what are we going to (unintelligible)?
MICHAEL COHEN: Funding - yes. And it's all the stuff.
COHEN: All the stuff because...
CORNISH: Quickly, Ryan, what's being discussed here?
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, this is a recording secretly made by Cohen in September of 2016. It's a conversation with Trump at Trump Tower. They discuss a number of things, some related to the campaign. Parts of the tape, as we heard, are kind of muddled and unintelligible. They discussed buying the rights to Karen McDougal's story. McDougal is the former Playboy model who says she had an affair with Trump around a decade ago. The White House denies that any such affair took place. Now, American Media, Inc., which is the parent company of the National Enquirer, had paid McDougal $150,000 for her story. Here on the recording, Cohen and Trump are talking about buying the rights to that story from AMI.
CORNISH: We first learned of this recording actually late last week, right? And now we're just actually hearing it. What's the significance of it?
LUCAS: Well, there are a couple things. First off, the president appears familiar with the financial agreement that AMI had with McDougal. That's of note because Trump's camp has initially denied - or rather initially denied any knowledge of the deal whatsoever. This also raises questions about possible campaign finance violations. The president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has told me that the president did not ultimately pay AMI for McDougal's story. He says that AMI held on to it for its own reasons. But the specifics of any payment matter. The problem here is that the tape does not answer any of the questions that it raises about possible campaign finance violations.
Another significant point is that it's coming from Michael Cohen's legal team. Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, provided CNN with the tape. CNN aired it late last night. So this marks a significant escalation in the conflict that we've seen between Cohen and Trump, and that really raises a lot of possible risks for the president.
CORNISH: What do you mean by risks? I mean, in what way could this be a problem for the White House?
LUCAS: Because of who Cohen is and what he may know. So Cohen worked for years as the president's personal lawyer. He worked for years as his fixer. So he has a deep reservoir of knowledge about the president's personal matters, as well as his business dealings. Remember that it was Cohen who arranged the payment to the porn actor Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign. She's another woman who alleges having an affair with Trump. And Cohen is now under federal investigation in New York. That has put him under a lot of legal and financial pressure. He hasn't been charged yet, but the FBI is looking into Cohen's business dealings, including these payments.
Federal agents, you may recall, raided Cohen's residences and office back in April as part of their investigation. Trump was furious at the time. He called the raids an attack on the country. Now, Trump is lambasting Cohen on Twitter, calling the recordings inconceivable and sad. And Cohen, I'm told, feels that Trump has abandoned him and this relationship, which we've understood to always be kind of, well, one-sided, appears to be unraveling even more.
CORNISH: In the meantime, we know that the FBI may have many more materials, right? I mean, when they raided Cohen's office, they carted away a lot.
LUCAS: We know that there are more audio materials. A court official who is reviewing all the files that were seized by the FBI from Cohen recently alerted the court that 12 audio items that they have previously withheld are being turned over to prosecutors.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thank you.
LUCAS: Thank you.
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