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Ex-Trump Lawyer Releases Tape Concerning Former Playboy Model Payoff

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We knew that President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen had secretly made a recording of a conversation he had with then-candidate Trump. Now we're getting to hear that recording. Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, gave CNN a nearly three-minute-long recording. It's muffled, and at times, it's hard to hear, but Davis says this recording shows Trump asked Michael Cohen to make payments in cash to the American Media company. This is the parent company of the National Enquirer. They were making this payment to buy a story from a former Playmate who alleges that she had an affair with Donald Trump. We're going to play a clip from the very end of the tape obtained by CNN.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL COHEN: When it comes time for the financing, which will be...

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Listen (ph); what financing?

COHEN: Well, I'll have to pay you something...

TRUMP: No, we'll pay with cash.

COHEN: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I got - no, no, no.

TRUMP: (Unintelligible).

MARTIN: The president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, takes issue with the tape's abrupt ending and says the president was actually saying, don't pay with cash. Here he is on Fox News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

RUDY GIULIANI: The transcript makes it quite clear at the end that President Trump says, quote, "don't pay with cash." Cohen then interrupts and says, no, no, no; I got it. And then you hear distinctly, if you're careful and you slow it down, check. And then Cohen follows with no, no, no and then quickly cut off the tape, which indicates exactly what professor Dershowitz was saying - that Cohen doesn't want the rest recorded.

MARTIN: To sort through all this, I'm joined now by former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.

Renato, this is not just about cash or no cash, right? This is about who knew what and when they knew it.

RENATO MARIOTTI: Absolutely. Here, you have the president speaking to a man, who, as we know now, is under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in New York about a subject that he is under investigation for - these payments to women and then to media companies in order to, you know, ensure the news does not come out before the election. Earlier on the tape, there's discussion of timing and how important timing is. On the portion that you just played, we see a discussion of how to make payment. I disagree with Mr. Giuliani regarding the clarity of the tape. I think it's pretty unclear, but it appears to me, at least, as I listen to it, that the president is talking about a payment in cash. That's a very unusual thing to do for a transaction of this size.

MARTIN: And we should say Rudy Giuliani also alleges that that in this conversation, the tape demonstrates that this is the first time that the president is hearing about this possible payoff scheme. Is that your read of the tape, or is it more ambiguous than that?

MARIOTTI: I would say the opposite. I'd say that it appears that he's very familiar with this type of subject. They speak in the tape - and folks can listen to it and decide for themselves - but they speak in the tape as if there are multiple people that they're trying to make payments to, that this is a - these are sort of situations that come up at a more regular basis. You know, to me, that's the more problematic part of the tape for the president because it's harder to spin. I mean, Mr. Giuliani could say what you can hear or not hear about cash, but it seems fairly clear that the president's familiar with the situation and situations like this, and this is how they deal with them.

MARTIN: Is there any smoking gun, though? I mean, does this tape - being able to hear it - does it change anything legally?

MARIOTTI: Well, what it certainly means is that the president can't deny that he was aware of the situation or aware of the payment. And that really is important only in the context of other evidence, that - the issue - the potential crimes that Cohen is under investigation for - one is campaign finance violations - you can't make payments or receive payments without reporting them - and then, also, fraud, more broadly. And so at this point, we don't know exactly what evidence the federal prosecutors in Manhattan have, although after they executed a search warrant at the home and office of Michael Cohen, you have to imagine that they have quite a bit of evidence.

MARTIN: Why would Michael Cohen's lawyer want this out there? Clearly, they must think it helps him in some way.

MARIOTTI: Very unusual strategy. Typically, if you are trying to get a plea deal or cooperate in some way, you would do that in private. You wouldn't want to show your cards publicly. You wouldn't want to comment on the evidence publicly. And, you know, you would also not - want to seem a little less eager for a deal. So to me, this seems like a way of trying to angle for a pardon, to threaten that you're going to go the other way in order to get brought back into the president's camp, or it's simply a nonsensical strategy. I do have enough faith in Cohen's lawyers to think that there must be some strategy here, but it is very unconventional.

MARTIN: Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. Thanks so much. We appreciate it.

MARIOTTI: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.