Approximately 180 secret recordings were seized by investigators from Donald Trump’s former legal fixer Michael Cohen, the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani suggested on Sunday.
Giuliani claimed that a tape given to the media by Cohen last week was the only one to feature remarks by Trump. If true, that would dampen hopes among the president’s critics of finding incriminating evidence against him.
“We know of something like 183 unique conversations on tape,” Giuliani said, on CBS’s Face the Nation. “One of those is with the president of the United States.”
Giuliani said about a dozen other recordings contained discussions about Trump between Cohen and others including reporters.
Giuliani, a former mayor of New York City, disclosed the new total while unveiling a new line of attack aimed at discrediting Cohen, based around vague claims that Cohen may have doctored his recordings.
“You’ve gotta raise that question with every one of those tapes,” Giuliani said in an interview with Jeanine Pirro on Fox News late on Saturday. “How many of them did he play around with? The guy has, like, 180 tapes.”
FBI agents took the recordings, along with thousands of pages of records, from Cohen’s offices and home during raids in April, as part of a criminal investigation into his business activities by federal authorities in New York.
Amid a bitter fall-out between the two men, Cohen last week leaked to reporters the recording in which he and Trump discussed a $150,000 payoff to buy the silence of Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who says she had a lengthy affair with Trump, which Trump denies.
Giuliani claimed other recordings seized from Cohen would support the Trump team’s position that payoffs to women threatening to disclose damaging information during 2016 would not violate campaign finance laws by amounting to undisclosed campaign spending.
He said Cohen was heard saying he paid the women “not for the campaign” but rather “because I personally love the president and Melania”.
The dispute has brought a messy end to a decade-long relationship between Trump and Cohen, who is under investigation for possible bank fraud and violation of election campaign finance laws. Cohen has denied any wrongdoing.
Cohen reportedly feels Trump has abandoned him to face the consequences of actions he took for the future president. Trump’s team, which is being watched closely by the special counsel Robert Mueller for any attempts to obstruct justice, has apparently refrained from trying to secure Cohen’s loyalty.
In a the most dramatic escalation so far, Cohen’s legal team last week leaked a secret recording of Cohen and Trump apparently discussing McDougal’s payoff. McDougal alleged a deal was struck for the National Enquirer magazine to pay her $150,000 for her story, and then decline to publish it. The magazine is published by Trump’s friend David Pecker. In the recording, after Cohen mentions “our friend David”, Trump asks: “So, what do we got to pay for this? 150?”
CNN and NBC subsequently reported that Cohen was also willing to tell investigators Trump had known his son and senior aides were to meet Russians offering “dirt” on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign – and that he had approved.
Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, and Trump’s then campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, met at Trump Tower on 9 June 2016 with a group of well-connected Russians, having been told they would bring information about Clinton from the Russian government. Trump has always denied knowing about the meeting.
Trump reiterated his denial following last week’s reports, saying on Twitter that he “did NOT know of the meeting”, and accusing Cohen of trying to trade false information to escape his own legal difficulties.
Other Trump allies joined Giuliani’s effort to undermine Cohen’s credibility, in a striking example of how the president’s media defenders aggressively protect him at moments of high pressure.
Introducing her Giuliani interview on Fox News, Pirro – a friend of the president – said the former mayor was claiming “experts” had examined the leaked recording and found evidence of tampering. Giuliani cited no such expert analysis, and instead said only it was suspicious that the recording ended abruptly.
In fact, during a separate interview on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Giuliani conceded that analysts who examined the tape had said there was “no way to tell” if it had been edited.
Undeterred, on Sunday morning Fox & Friends – the president’s favourite show – displayed the message “Rudy: experts think Cohen tapes were tampered”. Alan Dershowitz, a veteran Harvard legal expert and Trump ally, reminded the hosts that a doctored tape was used against one of his former clients.
“Words had been shifted around to make him say things he didn’t say, and he was acquitted,” he said.
By the time he reached a later interview on Fox News Sunday, Giuliani’s account had become that Cohen was “capable, I think, unfortunately, of doctoring tapes”.
Giuliani said on Sunday Cohen’s charge about Trump’s prior knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting was “flat-out untrue”, and noted that despite Cohen’s practice of recording meetings, he apparently had no recording to support this allegation. He repeatedly accused Cohen of being an habitual liar.
The remarks stood in sharp contrast to Giuliani’s description of Cohen, less than two months ago, as “an honest, honorable lawyer”.