Trump 'talked about payment to Playboy model'
Accusations come to light as president warns of plan to impose tariffs on all Chinese imports
Donald Trump's former personal lawyer secretly recorded Trump discussing payments to a former 'Playboy' model who said she had an affair with him, 'The New York Times' reported yesterday.
The US president's current personal lawyer confirmed the conversation and said it showed Mr Trump did nothing wrong, according to newspaper.
Citing lawyers and others familiar with the recording, the 'Times' said attorney Michael Cohen made the recording two months before Trump's 2016 election. The newspaper said the FBI seized the recording during an April raid on Mr Cohen's office amid an investigation into his business dealings.
People familiar with the investigation said the raid sought, among other things, any information on payments made in 2016 to former 'Playboy' model Karen McDougal, who says she had an affair with Mr Trump in 2006. He denies it.
'The Wall Street Journal' revealed, days before the election, that the 'National Enquirer' - run by Trump supporter David Pecker - had paid $150,000 (€128,000) to silence McDougal. At the time, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said, "We have no knowledge of any of this."
'The Washington Post', citing a person familiar with the recording, said yesterday it captured Mr Trump and Mr Cohen discussing an effort the attorney planned to make to buy the rights to McDougal's story for roughly $150,000 from American Media Inc, the parent company of the 'Enquirer'.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the 'Times' the president did discuss the payments to Ms McDougal with Mr Cohen on the less than two-minute-long recording, but that the payment was never made.
Mr Giuliani says Mr Trump told Mr Cohen if he did make a payment, to do it by cheque so it could be documented.
"Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance," Mr Giuliani said. "In the big scheme of things, it's powerful exculpatory evidence."
Mr Cohen, a self-described fixer for Trump for more than a decade, said last year that he "would take a bullet" for Mr Trump. But he told an interviewer earlier this month that he now puts "family and country first" and won't let anyone paint him as "a villain of this story".
The latest allegations about Trump broke as he escalated his threats to punish China for its trade policies, with a fresh warning that he is prepared to impose tariffs on all Chinese imports and arguing that Beijing has manipulated its currency at the expense of America.
In a taped interview with the business channel CNBC, Mr Trump warned "I'm willing to go to 500," meaning he is prepared to impose tariffs on $505.5bn (€431bn) on Chinese imports - roughly the value of all the goods Beijing shipped to the United States last year.
Doing so would mean American households and companies would have to pay sharply higher prices for all Chinese products, as long as the tariffs remained in effect.
Mr Trump has already imposed tariffs on $34bn (€29bn) in Chinese goods, and Beijing has retaliated with tariffs on an equal amount of American exports.
The US president earlier threatened to target up to $550bn (€469bn) in Chinese products - a figure that exceeds the $524bn ($446.5bn) in goods and services China shipped to the United States last year.
His remarks caught financial markets by surprise yesterday. US stocks sank in early trading before rebounding.
Global markets have remained generally calm in recent weeks and months despite the eruption of a full-blown US-China trade war and a host of other conflicts Mr Trump has ignited between the United States and key trading partners, including Canada and the EU.
The tariffs the Trump administration has already imposed on Chinese imports are the outgrowth of a dispute over the predatory practices it says China has deployed to try to supplant America's global supremacy in high technology.
Those include cyber-theft and an insistence American and other foreign companies hand over technology in exchange for access to the Chinese market.