Secret Trump-Cohen tape: Why it's "possible" a crime was committed

Trump-Cohen tape reveals "possible" crime

The much-anticipated secret recording between then-candidate Donald Trump and his lawyer, Michael Cohen was released by CNN Tuesday night but many questions about both what it says and what it means remain. According to CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman, the tape in and of itself does not indicate a crime was committed but it is "possible" since the recording raises serious questions about whether Mr. Trump violated campaign finance law.

The conversation, surreptitiously but not illegally recorded by Cohen, came after American Media, Inc. reached a $150,00 deal to pay former Playboy model Karen McDougal to stay quiet about her alleged affair with Mr. Trump more than a decade ago. The president denies the affair.

"There's no question that the president knew about it," Klieman told "CBS This Morning" referring to the payment to McDougal. "The question becomes whether or not it's a campaign finance violation because if they knew about it, simply knew about it, they had to account for it because it's an in-kind contribution. The fact that they thought about paying David Pecker and American Media, [parent company of] the National Enquirer to continue this catch and kill and get the rights to Karen McDougal's story, that in and of itself might not be illegal but it certainly smacks of something that we don't like."

Secret audio tape between Trump and Michael Cohen released

In the recording, which was taken just two months before the 2016 presidential election, Cohen tells Trump that he'll have to set up "financing." Mr. Trump initially says "what financing?" He then says the word "cash" and later the word "check."

"Well, besides the fact that it's a titillating fact and that we like to know about those kinds of things, that in reality if it's cash or if they set up a dummy organization – as was allegedly done in the Stormy Daniels case – it looks like they are trying to cover up something, hide something," Klieman said.

Mr. Trump's current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has downplayed the relevance of the tape and said the recording only proves the president's claims that he did not know about the transaction.

"They like to get out in front of something," Klieman said. "The best defense is often a good offense and I'm sure that Rudy Giuliani thought that this was going to leak so he wanted to get it out there first. Whether or not it's exculpatory, according to Giuliani, or incriminatory, according to other people, is yet to be decided. Remember this too: We don't know if the special master thought it was privileged or not."