Reports: Cohen Taped Conversation With Trump About Paying McDougal
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And another breaking story reports that President Trump's personal lawyer and fixer, if you please, Michael Cohen recorded at least one of their conversations, that the FBI has that recording after they raided Michael Cohen's home, office and hotel room in April. The president commenting online today called the raid unheard of and the recording, quote, "perhaps illegal." Nick Ackerman is a former federal prosecutor who also served on the Watergate prosecution team in the 1970s. He joins us on the line. Mr. Akerman, thanks so much for being with us.
NICK AKERMAN: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: Looking at just this one recording - and I guess there's the prospect of more - how could this change things for the president?
AKERMAN: Well, I think it probably changes things in a couple ways. First of all, you've got potential campaign finance violations. You've got now Donald Trump being tape recorded talking about the Playboy bunny situation and payments to her, which were done through the Enquirer as opposed to directly through Michael Cohen. But you've also got now evidence that's out there about the Stormy Daniels payment. So you've got these payments that are lurking out there, which are campaign violations, federal felonies.
But I think more important what we really have now is confirmation that Michael Cohen did in fact tape Donald Trump. We don't know how many such tapes there are. We don't know what the subjects of those tapes are. But I can guarantee you that the focus of the special counsel is on Russia. And I'm sure what he is looking at is what Christopher Steele wrote in his reports - the British intelligence expert on Russia - claiming that people told him, various sources told him, that Michael Cohen was doing the same thing with respect to Russia and the hacking into the Democratic National Committee, trying to bury that the same way he was trying to bury Donald Trump's relationships with various women.
SIMON: Now, Rudolph Giuliani, the president's attorney, has reportedly said that when the recordings are heard, they are - will be exculpatory. In other words, they will suggest - they will confirm his argument that the president did nothing wrong.
AKERMAN: Well, first of all, Rudy Giuliani has never told the truth about anything relating to Donald Trump. So we don't know what is on those tapes. We don't know what is said. So I would take that with a grain of salt. Just the fact that he was talking about these payments before the election, the fact that the White House denied that there were any connections between Donald Trump and this particular individual, the former Playboy bunny, in itself kind of puts the lie to Rudy Giuliani on anything he says about this.
SIMON: At the same time, it sounds from the president's tweets today like his attorneys might make it an argument that nobody will ever hear these recordings, and certainly, they won't be played in a court of law. Is that a reasonable prospect?
AKERMAN: I don't think so. First of all, it's legal for one party who consents to tape record to tape record in New York. And so the tapes themselves - there's nothing illegal about them. It certainly isn't covered by the attorney-client privilege, which only relates to an attorney giving advice to a client over a legal matter. I doubt very much that making payments to Stormy Daniels and to a Playboy bunny would be covered by an attorney-client privilege. Moreover to the extent that it relates to any kind of campaign finance violation - any statement made in furtherance of a criminal act is not protected by the attorney-client privilege.
SIMON: Well, let me ask you Mr. Akerman, I mean - and I could be contradicted at this. I find myself surrounded by lawyers this morning. But (laughter) well - and please leave all of your cards 'cause I could use them at any time being in the press. Campaign finance violations - that's usually a fine, right? Hush money to cover up the story of an affair - that's not a dignified story, but it's more for the Trump household than it is for the White House or, forgive the expression, affairs of state. I mean, what does this really have to do with the American public?
AKERMAN: Well, it's still a crime. It's a felony. And it's not unserious (ph) but I agree with you to the extent that the real focus here is on Russia. And if there are tapes and other tapes relating to anything dealing with Michael Cohen dealing with the Russian situation, with the hacking into the Democratic National Committee, his supposed trip to Prague to meet with the Russians - any tapes relating to him and Donald Trump would absolutely be devastating to Trump.
SIMON: And Mr. Cohen has indicated publicly that he understands he's got to look out for himself and his family more than President Trump, hasn't he?
AKERMAN: Well, that's right. And I think his real problem is if there are lots of tapes and there are lots of documents - millions of documents reported - that he's probably in pretty deep trouble just because of all the documents that are out there that were seized during this raid. On the other hand, it also makes him an extremely valuable witness because the question is going to be at any kind of criminal trial or hearing whether or not he's telling the truth and to the extent that he can be corroborated by tapes, by documents.
SIMON: We have to go. Nick Akerman is an attorney in New York City. Thanks so much for being with us.
AKERMAN: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure being here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.