MIchael Cohen taped a conversation in person with Donald Trump in which the two men discussed buying the rights to a former Playboy Playmate’s story that she had an affair with Mr. Trump more than a decade ago, according to people familiar with the matter.
The conversation, between the then-GOP presidential nominee and his longtime personal lawyer, took place in September 2016, the people said. That was a month after American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, bought the life rights to Karen McDougal’s story of the extramarital affair, which she has said began in 2006 and lasted nearly a year. Representatives of Mr. Trump have denied the affair took place.
In the conversation, Mr. Cohen told Mr. Trump about the American Media deal and suggested that they consider acquiring the rights to Ms. McDougal’s story themselves, the people with knowledge of the matter said. Mr. Trump, appearing open to the suggestion, asked how to proceed and whether he should write a check or pay in another manner, they said.
It isn’t clear why Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump didn’t ultimately acquire the rights from American Media. A company spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The recording of the conversation, reported earlier Friday by The New York Times, was less than two minutes long and cut off before the conversation ended, the people said. There were some interruptions during the conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen, including someone entering the room to bring the candidate a Diet Coke he appeared to have requested, one of the people said.
The F.B.I. seized the recording this year during a raid on Mr. Cohen’s office. The Justice Department is investigating Mr. Cohen’s involvement in paying women to tamp down embarrassing news stories about Mr. Trump ahead of the 2016 election. Prosecutors want to know whether that violated federal campaign finance laws, and any conversation with Mr. Trump about those payments would be of keen interest to them.
The recording’s existence appears to undercut the Trump campaign’s denial of any knowledge of payments to the model. And it further draws Mr. Trump into questions about tactics he and his associates used to keep aspects of his personal and business life a secret. And it highlights the potential legal and political danger that Mr. Cohen represents to Mr. Trump. Once the keeper of many of Mr. Trump’s secrets, Mr. Cohen is now seen as increasingly willing to consider cooperating with prosecutors.