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BUNNYGATE

Trump Talks Playmate Payout in Secret Tape

Oh lordy, there are tapes.

Adam Rawnsley7.20.18 4:08 PM ET

The New York Times says that a secret recording made by Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen shows then-candidate Trump discussing the possibility of a payoff for Karen McDougal, the former Playboy playmate who says she had an affair with Trump in 2006. Rudy Giuliani confirmed the conversation took place but says Trump still wasn’t aware of McDougal’s deal with American Media Inc (AMI) for the rights to her life story—long suspected to be covert move to kill a story that could tank Trump’s presidential campaign.

Welcome to Rabbit Hole: Secret Tapes Edition. It’s like Watergate—only seedier.

So what? That President Trump may have had an affair with Playboy playmate Karen McDougal is no great mystery. She gave a lengthy interview to CNN’s Anderson Cooper detailing the relationship, which reportedly began during the same 2006 celebrity golf tournament where he met another alleged mistress, former porn star Stormy Daniels. Both AMI and Trump have always claimed that McDougal’s agreement with the tabloid company was a straight-up agreement for her life story, not an attempt by AMI CEO and Trump pal David Pecker to catch and kill a potentially damaging story about his buddy—and had nothing to do with Trump himself.

But others aren’t so sure. Government watchdog groups like Common Cause have filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department claiming that the AMI deal with McDougal was essentially a disguised in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign on behalf of a wealthy friend. In its story about the tapes, The New York Times wrote that federal prosecutors may be curious about that possibility themselves and are looking to find out if Trump’s apparent involvement in the case “violated federal campaign finance laws.”

How does Cohen figure into the McDougal case? It was actually another New York Times story from way back in February that tipped the world off. In a lengthy piece about how Cohen had helped Trump keep a lid on embarrassing stories, the Times revealed that McDougal’s lawyer, Keith Davidson, had been in contact with Cohen about the confidential agreement with AMI shortly after McDougal had signed it. In a lawsuit against AMI, since settled, McDougal claimed that “Neither AMI nor Mr. Davidson told Ms. McDougal about these communications.”

Flashback: Don’t think that could be a problem? Ask John Edwards. Edwards had an affair during the 2008 presidential campaign and wealthy donors and friends cobbled together nearly a million dollars’ worth of payments to his pregnant mistress in what federal prosecutors argued was a criminal violation of federal campaign finance laws. A federal jury ultimately acquitted Edwards on one count and couldn’t reach a verdict on the rest.

Et tu, Michael? Trump is not taking the alleged betrayal from his former pal and personal attorney very well. CNN reported that, when told of the tapes, Trump complained, “I can’t believe Michael would do this with me.” It’s not clear whether the “this” Trump refers to is the secret tape or the betrayal implied in handing it over to the feds. In any case, he doesn’t appear to have been paying attention to the many loud, public signals Team Cohen has been sending that Michael’s prepared to dime out on the president. Friends of Cohen told CNN back in June that "he knows a lot of things about the President and he's not averse to talking in the right situation." When asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in early July whether he’d be prepared to give evidence against Trump, Cohen—straining under the weight of legal bills and mounting legal troubles—said, “To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty.”

What about Keith Davidson? One of the low-key wildcards in the saga of Trump’s alleged romantic dalliances is the role of Keith Davidson, the former lawyer to both Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Davidson, who built a miniature legal empire handling cases involving the sexual indiscretions of D-list celebrities, negotiated directly with Cohen and his shell corporation Essential Consultants LLC to arrange a $150,000 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels.

The extent and purpose of Davidson’s interactions with Cohen as he handled her deal with AMI is still a mystery and the revelation of the Trump tape today doesn’t clear it up. When last we left him, Davidson was cooperating with federal prosecutors to “provide certain limited electronic information” to the feds about Cohen. Keep an eye out for any hints about what, if anything, Cohen may have discussed with Davidson about McDougal.

Eavesdropping law. This wouldn’t be the first time that a secret audio recording made by a private citizen further sank a presidency into sex scandal. Recall that Linda Tripp secretly recorded Monica Lewinsky’s phone conversations about her sexual relationship with President Clinton. A handful of states have so-called two party consent laws which require both parties to a phone call to give consent to a recording. Maryland, where Tripp lived at the time, is a two party consent state and prosecutors indicted her on wiretapping charges before dropping them in 2000. New York state, where both Trump and Cohen lived at the time, is not a two party consent state. If both Cohen and Trump were in New York at the the time the call (or calls) were made, Cohen’s recordings would be perfectly legal (if incredibly unwise).

More to come. Buckle up because it sounds an awful lot like there are more recordings waiting to drop. Giuliani told CNN today that there are “Definitely all kinds of tapes out there.”  

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