Trump taped discussing payment to ex-Playboy model to hush up affair story

President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer secretly recorded Trump discussing a potential payment for a former Playboy model's account of having an affair with him, people familiar with an investigation into the attorney said today.

The payment was never made, according to Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who said the recording shows Trump did nothing wrong.

Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen surreptitiously made the recording two months before Trump's 2016 election, according to a person familiar with a federal investigation into Cohen that brought the tape to light. The FBI now has it, according to the person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing inquiry.

The conversation between Trump and Cohen came weeks after the National Enquirer's parent company reached a $150,000 ($220,125 NZD) deal to pay ex-Playmate Karen McDougal for her story of a 2006 affair, which it never published — a tabloid practice known as "catch and kill." Trump denies the affair ever happened.

Karen McDougall during Movieline's Hollywood Life 7th Annual Young Hollywood Awards - Arrivals at Music Box at The Fonda in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Karen McDougall during Movieline's Hollywood Life 7th Annual Young Hollywood Awards. Source: Getty

The company, American Media Inc., is run by Trump friend and supporter David Pecker.

The company's payment effectively silenced McDougal through the election, though days beforehand, news of the deal emerged in The Wall Street Journal. At the time, a Trump spokeswoman said his campaign had "no knowledge of any of this."

But in the recorded conversation, he and Cohen had discussed buying the rights to McDougal's story from the Enquirer, according to the person familiar with the investigation.

Giuliani said the conversation between the two men was very brief.

"The transaction that Michael is talking about on the tape never took place, but what's important is: If it did take place, the president said it has to be done correctly and it has to be done by check" to keep a proper record of it, Giuliani told the AP.

Cohen, his lawyers and McDougal's lawyer didn't immediately respond to messages.  Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis declined to comment to The New York Times, which first reported on the recording.

The FBI raided Cohen's office, home and hotel room in April amid an investigation into his business dealings, including any information on payments to McDougal.

The Enquirer's payment to the former centerfold gave the tabloid the exclusive rights to any story she might ever wish to tell about having an affair with a married man.

She later publicly alleged that the Enquirer had tricked her into accepting the deal and had threatened to ruin her if she broke it. After she sued the tabloid seeking to invalidate the contract in March, the Enquirer agreed to allow her to tell her story.

Cohen, a self-described fixer for Trump for more than a decade, said last year that he "would take a bullet" for Trump. But Cohen 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."

Hours before the Times published its story, Cohen met in New York this morning with the Rev. Al Sharpton, a frequent critic of Trump.

Cohen and Sharpton said in tweets they have known each other for 20 years. Cohen contacted the civil rights activist in recent weeks, longtime Sharpton spokeswoman Rachel Noerdlinger said.

She said the two revisited conversations they'd had over the years when Cohen was Sharpton's conduit to Trump during clashes over race issues and over Trump's years of questioning the authenticity of former President Barack Obama's birth certificate.

Cohen tweeted there's "no one better to talk to!" than Sharpton, who used his own Twitter account to advise readers: "Stay tuned."



Death toll rises to 17 in US capsized duck boat accident

Divers found four more bodies Friday (NZ time today) in a Missouri lake where a duck boat packed with tourists capsized and sank in high winds, bringing the death toll to 17 in the country-and-western town of Branson, authorities said.

Investigators blamed stormy weather for the accident Thursday evening (NZ time yesterday) on Table Rock Lake. Winds at the time were blowing as hard as 65 mph (105 kph), according to the National Weather Service.

The boat was carrying 29 passengers and two crew members on a pleasure cruise, and authorities said everyone aboard had been accounted for. Seven of the 14 survivors were hurt when the vessel went down. At least two were hospitalized in critical condition, officials said.

The crew member who was operating the boat died, but the captain survived, authorities said.

Named for their ability to travel on land and in water, duck boats have been involved in other serious accidents in the past, including the deaths of more than 40 people since 1999.

Five college students were killed in 2015 in Seattle when a duck boat collided with a bus. Thirteen people died in 1999 when a boat sank near Hot Springs, Arkansas.

"Duck boats are death traps," said Andrew Duffy, an attorney whose Philadelphia law firm handled litigation related to two fatal duck boat accidents there. "They're not fit for water or land because they are half car and half boat."

Safety advocates have sought improvements and complained that too many agencies regulate the boats with varying safety requirements.

The boats were originally designed for the military, specifically to transport troops and supplies in World War II. They were later modified for use as sightseeing vehicles.

Passengers on a nearby boat described the chaos on the lake as the winds picked up and the water turned rough.

"Debris was flying everywhere," Allison Lester said in an interview Friday (NZ time today) with ABC's "Good Morning America."

Lester's boyfriend, Trent Behr, said they saw a woman in the water and helped to pull her into the boat. He said he was about to start CPR when an EMT arrived and took over.

The Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board were to investigate. Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader urged anyone with video or photos of the accident to contact authorities.

Weather conditions were sure to figure prominently in the investigation. The weather service issued a severe thunderstorm watch around midday Thursday  (NZ time yesterday), followed by a warning at 6:32 pm, about 40 minutes before the boat tipped over. Both the watch and a statement issued at 7:02 pm mentioned the risk of 70 mph winds.

"When we issue a warning, it means, take action," said Kelsey Angle, a weather service meteorologist in Springfield.

Divers located the vessel, which came to rest on its wheels on the lakebed, and authorities planned to recover it later Friday (NZ time today).

The boat sank in 40 feet (12 meters) of water and then rolled on its wheels into a deeper area with 80 feet (25 meters) of water. Investigators had no information about whether passengers were wearing life jackets or whether they were stowed onboard, the sheriff said.

The names of the dead were not immediately released.

An off-duty deputy working security for the boat company helped rescue people after the boat turned over, the sheriff said. Dive teams from several law enforcement agencies assisted in the effort.

Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks in Branson, said the company was assisting authorities. She said this was the ride's only accident in more than 40 years of operation.

Weather can change rapidly in this part of the country, moving from sunshine and calm to dangerous storms within minutes, said Jason Schaumann, another weather service meteorologist.

"Tornado warnings get a lot of publicity, and severe thunderstorm warnings should be taken very seriously too, particularly if you are in a vulnerable area like a lake or campground," he said.

Branson, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Kansas City, is a country-themed tourist mecca built on a reputation for patriotic and religious-themed shows in numerous theaters.

Table Rock Lake, east of Branson, was created in the late 1950s when the Corps of Army Engineers built a dam across the White River to provide hydroelectric power to the Ozarks.

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Ten injured after knife attack on crowded bus in Germany

A man armed with a kitchen knife attacked passengers today on a crowded city bus in northern Germany before being overpowered and arrested, authorities said. Ten people were injured, three of them seriously.


Authorities had no immediate information on the assailant's motive for the afternoon (local time) attack on a city bus in Luebeck, near the Baltic coast northeast of Hamburg, but said they had no indication that he was politically radicalised or had any terrorist background.


Investigators found a flammable substance in a backpack aboard the bus, but no explosives.


The incident started when the assailant set fire to the backpack, prosecutor Ulla Hingst said at a Friday evening news conference in Luebeck.


The driver told investigators that he stopped the bus and opened all the doors to let passengers out after noticing the fire in his rear-view mirror.


He then walked back to find out what was going on and was hit by the assailant, Hingst said. As the suspect left the bus, he stabbed people around him with a 13 centimetre kitchen knife. The attacker was overpowered by passengers outside the vehicle, then quickly arrested by police nearby.


Five of the victims were still hospitalised yesterday evening.


The suspect is a 34-year-old man who lives locally. Hingst said he is a longtime German citizen who was born in Iran.


"There are no indications that the man was in any way politically radicalised," Hingst said. "For that reason we have, as the investigation currently stands, no indications that there was a terrorist background to this act."


She added the motive is "still open" and "we are investigating in all directions."


Prosecutors will seek to have the man kept in custody pending possible charges of bodily harm and attempted arson, Hingst said.


The bus was traveling from Luebeck to the neighboring seaside resort of Travemuende, where an annual regatta, the Travemuender Woche, was opening later Friday.


Schleswig-Holstein's state interior minister, Hans-Joachim Grote, said there was no reason to believe that there was an increased risk to the regatta but police presence there was stepped up as a precaution.

A bus stands on a street in Luebeck, northern Germany, Friday, July 20, 2018 after a man attacked people inside. (TNN/dpa via AP)
A bus stands on a street in Luebeck, northern Germany after a man attacked people inside. Source: Associated Press