WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump yesterday denied any wrongdoing after reports said his former attorney had recorded them both discussing buying the rights to a story by a woman who said she had had an affair with Mr Trump.
Mr Trump said it was "perhaps illegal" for a lawyer to record a client.
"Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer's office - almost unheard of," Mr Trump said in a Twitter post, in an apparent reference to an FBI raid in April on the office of his former longtime Michael Cohen.
"Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client - totally unheard of & perhaps illegal. "
"The good news is that your favorite President did nothing wrong!" Mr Trump added.
The recording was among the evidence seized from Mr Cohen during the raid, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Mr Cohen and Mr Trump can be heard discussing a plan to buy the rights to the woman's story from American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, which had spent US$150,000 (S$204,000) for her story.
The Justice Department is investigating Mr Cohen's involvement in paying women to tamp down embarrassing news stories about Mr Trump before the 2016 election. Prosecutors want to know whether that violated federal campaign finance laws.
The recording's existence appears to undercut the Trump campaign's denial of any knowledge of payments to the woman, onetime Playboy model Karen McDougal.
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. It also 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.
Ms McDougal has said she began a nearly year-long affair with Mr Trump in 2006, shortly after his wife, Melania, gave birth to their son Barron. Ms McDougal sold her story to The National Enquirer, which was supportive of Mr Trump, during the final months of the presidential campaign, but the tabloid sat on the story, which kept it from becoming public.
Mr Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump's personal lawyer, confirmed in a telephone conversation last Friday that Mr Trump had discussed payments to Ms McDougal with Mr Cohen in person on the recording. He said that it was less than two minutes long and that Mr Trump did not know he was being recorded. He also said that the President had done nothing wrong.
Mr Giuliani said there was no indication on the tape that Mr Trump knew before the conversation about the payment from the Enquirer's parent company, American Media Inc (AMI), to Ms McDougal.
"Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance," Mr Giuliani said. The recording cuts off, according to three people familiar with it.
Mr Giuliani had initially indicated the men discussed a payment from Mr Trump to Ms McDougal - separate from the Enquirer's payment. Later, he said Mr Trump and Mr Cohen had actually discussed buying the rights to Ms McDougal's story from the Enquirer.
That payment was never made, Mr Giuliani said, adding that Mr Trump had told Mr Cohen that if he were to make a payment related to Ms McDougal, to write a cheque rather than send cash, so it could be properly documented.
A person close to Mr Cohen disputed Mr Giuliani's description of the discussion over how to pay AMI for the rights to Ms McDougal's story and suggested the tape would back up Mr Cohen.