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Roughly 100 Tapes Seized In Cohen Probe, 'Washington Post' Reports

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

OK. So yesterday, that secret recording of President Trump speaking with his former lawyer Michael Cohen about payments to a former Playboy model to try to cover up an alleged affair - this was the story making all the headlines. Today we are learning that the federal government has seized more than a hundred recordings that Michael Cohen made. That's according to The Washington Post, which is also reporting that these recordings could be related to Donald Trump and his businesses.

Harry Sandick is the former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. This is where Michael Cohen is under investigation. And Mr. Sandick joins us now on the line. Thanks so much for being with us.

HARRY SANDICK: Absolutely. Good morning.

MARTIN: What value are these recordings to the case against Michael Cohen?

SANDICK: Well, recordings are usually the best form - or almost the best form of evidence in any criminal case. You can't cross-examine a tape recording. They give you a clear understanding of what two people said to each other. And so to the extent that there's anything incriminating for anyone on these recordings, this will be an important part of the U.S. Attorney's Office investigation.

MARTIN: The central question, as it pertains to President Trump, is whether or not this alleged payment constitutes a violation of campaign finance laws. Can you explain how that would be dossed (ph), especially if this money was used from a private account?

SANDICK: Sure. So if someone makes a payment to benefit a campaign, that payment has to be disclosed under election finance law. And there are certain limits to how much money one person can give to a campaign, or one organization can give to a campaign.

So what it appears may have happened here is that AMI, the company that owns the National Enquirer, made a payment to Susan McDougal (ph), who had some sort of prior personal relationship with the president. And it appears from this recording that Trump and Michael Cohen were contemplating making a payment to AMI, which has the appearance of a reimbursement payment or a payment to buy the rights themselves so that no story about this person, McDougal, would ever appear.

And to the extent that this was done by AMI in order to benefit the campaign, if Trump knew about it, or his advisers knew about it, it should've been disclosed as part of federal election disclosures.

MARTIN: Do you think this is to Michael Cohen's advantage to have had his lawyers leak these tapes?

SANDICK: It's not clear to me that it's to his advantage in the long term. In the short term, perhaps it allows him to lash out, so to speak, at the president. It's been reported that he's been unhappy with the president's treatment of him in recent weeks.

But it also seems to be a risk in terms of Cohen's professed strategy of trying to cooperate with the government. Prosecutors usually like to keep their investigations quiet until the time when they're ready to bring charges. So having someone as a cooperating witness who likes to go into the media and share evidence with the public - that may not be what they're looking for.

MARTIN: Just briefly, will these tapes even be admissible into a court of law, because wouldn't the Trump legal team have to sign off on them to make that happen?

SANDICK: Well, they may well be admissible. It appears that the Trump legal team has already waived privilege in these proceedings that are occurring in the southern district for a special master named Barbara Jones, who's a retired federal judge.

MARTIN: Yeah. OK. Harry Sandick, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Thanks so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

SANDICK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: July 26, 2018 at 12:00 AM EDT
In the live broadcast of this audio, former Playboy model Karen McDougal was mistakenly referred to as Susan McDougal.

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