Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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In unnerving news for the Trump family business, Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg has officially been subpoenaed to testify in the criminal investigation into Michael Cohen’s financial dealings. Weisselberg has worked at the company since the ‘70s doing all sorts of work for Trump: cutting real-estate deals, handling personal financial transactions and serving as treasurer of the allegedly wildly corrupt Trump Foundation. Former Trump Organization employees and Trump chroniclers like journalist Tim O’Brien agree that Weisselberg knows “where all financial bodies are buried.”

Weisselberg was name-dropped on a recording released this week in which Cohen told Trump he had discussed purchasing the rights to a former Playboy model’s account of her alleged affair with the President. The Trump Org CFO also set up a monthly retainer through the company that was used to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels.

These disclosures have ratcheted up tensions between Cohen and his former boss, who called Cohen’s habit of secretly recording conversations — apparently prosecutors have over 100 — “so sad” and “possibly illegal.” (It’s not, in New York state.)

Cohen is also now dangling the allegation that he was in the room when Donald Trump Jr. told Trump about his upcoming June 2016 meeting with Russians who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. Trump attorney Giuliani said Cohen has been “lying for years,” while Trump himself said Cohen was trying to “get out of “an unrelated jam (Taxi cabs maybe?).”

The Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office is now in possession of 12 audio recordings seized from Cohen after the parties involved waived attorney-client privilege.

Paul Manafort’s Virginia trial was postponed until July 31 to allow his attorneys more time to review documents produced by government attorneys. At a hearing this week, the judge unsealed the names of five witnesses granted immunity by the special counsel to testify. They all appear to work in the financial sector; several are tied to a small Chicago bank that provided Manafort $16 million in loans shortly after he left the Trump campaign.

Alleged Russian agent Maria Butina’s lawyers denied at a hearing this week that she allegedly offered sex in exchange for a job. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that she is a “political prisoner” who must be released promptly.

Reuters revealed that she and her handler, Russian Central Bank official Alexander Torshin met with U.S. Treasury Department and Federal Reserve officials during a 2015 trip to D.C. The Washington Post reported that Russian billionaire Konstantin Nikolaev provided funding for Butina’s gun rights group.

A group of hard-right House lawmakers introduced articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which are unlikely to go anywhere.

National Security Adviser John Bolton walked back Trump’s invite to Vladimir Putin for a D.C. meeting, saying their next encounter “should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over” or “after the first of the year.”

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Scott Walker was among the first to trip the alarm.

The Wisconsin governor started sending smoke signals about a “wake up call for Republicans” in the state back in January, when a Democrat won a state Senate special election in a rural, red district. A subsequent double-digit Democratic victory for a state Supreme Court seat showed the “risk of a #BlueWave,” Walker cautioned.

In April, the two-term incumbent predicted that this year’s reelection battle “is going to be tougher than any one I have been involved with, including the [2012] recall.”

On Thursday, Walker received the latest sign that he may be right. An NBC News-Marist poll brought the worst news in what has, so far, been a relatively smooth race for him.

Only 34 percent of Wisconsin’s registered voters said Walker deserves a third term, while 61 percent said it was “time to give a new person a chance.” In a hypothetical head-to-head matchup with state schools superintendent Tony Evers, the Democratic frontrunner, Evers led Walker 54 percent to 41 percent.

Though he believes the NBC poll’s sample was “too Democratic,” the results, said Wisconsin Republican strategist Bill McCoshen, “should send another wake-up call to the GOP base not to take the Governor’s race for granted.”

The Democratic Governor’s Association is investing heavily in the election, setting aside $4.5 million for ad buys for whichever of the eight Democrats still in the race wins the Aug. 14 primary.

DGA communications director Jared Leopold told TPM that the Wisconsin gubernatorial contest “will be one of the biggest and most competitive races of the cycle.”

Walker’s campaign, the Republican Governor’s Association, and the Wisconsin Republican Party did not return TPM’s multiple requests for comment.

No one thinks the road ahead will be easy for the eventual Democratic nominee. A Marquette Law School poll out last week had Walker a few points ahead in head-to-head match-ups against all eight of his Democratic opponents.

A powerful incumbent who has done much to advance a hard-right agenda—eviscerating unions, restricting abortion access and voting rights, stripping environmental protections—Walker has the full backing of the Wisconsin GOP. He has $6 million cash on hand, and has for months been churning out sunny TV ads that paint his legacy in a benign light.

Detractors and allies alike acknowledge Walker’s unrivaled fundraising prowess in the state, assisted by the Koch brothers’ network. They also note he won the contentious 2012 recall race.

But polling suggests that Walker has a legitimate threat in Evers, the mild-mannered head of Wisconsin schools who has thrice won statewide elections. Though Evers trailed some of his Democratic challengers in fundraising, with a meager $307,000 cash on hand as of mid-July, he has consistently led in the polls by double-digit margins and has far greater name recognition than the rest of the field.

As McCoshen, the GOP strategist noted, the NBC poll allows Evers “a much easier time convincing undecided Dems that he is the right guy to take on Walker.” A decisive win in the primary would give Evers “a huge bounce heading into the general,” McCoshen said.

Evers told TPM he is already gearing up for the next phase of the race.

“The most difficult piece will be transitioning from the primary race to a general, but that’ll be done in a short period of time and we’re clearly already thinking about that,” Evers told TPM in a recent phone interview.

Democrats see other warning signs for Walker lurking in the Marquette poll, where only 3 percent of respondents said they don’t already have an opinion about the governor.

Wisconsin Democrat Party spokesman T.J. Helmstetter said those numbers indicate that “he doesn’t really have any room to grow.” Helmstetter noted that Walker’s previous elections were held in 2010 and 2014—banner years for the GOP—and that he’s not used to campaigning in a less favorable environment.

“[Walker]’s been elected by relatively small margins when the wind was blowing at his back and now the wind appears to be blowing in his face,” the DGA’s Leopold told TPM.

Then there’s Walker’s links to the Trump administration. While neither side seems interested in making the race a referendum on the President, those ties may be some cause for concern. Trump is less popular in Wisconsin than in other states that swung his way in 2016. He had 42 percent approval in Marquette’s latest poll and only 36 percent in NBC’s, and is deeply underwater among independents in the state.

McCoshen acknowledged that Trump’s tariff war, which has caused Wisconsin-based Harley Davidson to outsource some production and taken a toll on the state’s manufacturing and agricultural industries, “might hurt Walker in the fall.”

Democrats say they’re happy to highlight those links to the President when they need to, like when Walker dispatched the National Guard to the border as the family separation crisis was unfolding. Trump is doing some of the work himself, referring to Walker as “a favorite of mine” at a joint appearance last week.

“He will be tied to Trump whether from his action or his inaction,” Evers told TPM.

By banking on the national tide of Democratic enthusiasm, Walker’s baggage, and a hyper-local campaign focused on education, jobs, and roads, Democrats hope they can squeeze out a narrow win in November.

Helmstetter, who did rapid response against Walker at the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign, said that Walker’s 71-day flameout on the national stage proved he isn’t the untouchable politician that his supporters like to imagine.

“I saw up close that the guy is not invincible,” Helmstetter said. “He’s more vulnerable than he’s ever been.”

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This week brought an unwelcome turn in the spotlight for a notoriously under-the-radar fixture in President Trump’s inner circle: Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg.

Weisselberg’s name first cropped up in a now-public audio recording of Trump and his former fixer Michael Cohen discussing a payment related to Trump’s alleged  affair with a former Playboy playmate.

Then, on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal broke the news that Weisselberg has been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury as part of the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s criminal investigation into Cohen’s finances.

The revelation draws the President’s family real estate business even further into that federal probe, providing prosecutors with access to an individual intimately familiar with the Trump Organization’s operations and deals.

“Weisselberg’s involvement in this gives the prosecutors a foot in the door to the Trump Organization, if they didn’t already have one,” Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, told TPM. “It doesn’t open the door all the way, but it gives them a foot in the door.”

Weisselberg and the Trump Organization did not return TPM’s requests for comment.

Professional Trump chroniclers have for months suggested that Weisselberg, rather than Cohen, presented the secret to the Trump Organization’s finances. The trusted 70-year-old executive vice president and CFO got his start working for the president’s father, Fred, and has been with the firm since the 1970s. Currently, Weisselberg oversees operations of the firm alongside Trump’s two adult sons.

Save for a one-time turn as a judge on “The Apprentice,” Weisselberg has shied away from publicity, eschewing the bright lights of the campaign trial and the White House for a family-centered, quiet life in the Long Island suburbs. But several currently unfolding legal matters suggest that Weisselberg, like Cohen, played a hybrid role, handling all sorts of personal and business-related financial matters for Trump.

“While Cohen certainly helped Trump with a lot of sticky situations, money is always at the root of any issue,” former federal prosecutor Jeff Cramer told TPM. “Sooner or later, it all flows through the CFO.”

One matter involving all three men is a payment related to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s alleged 2006 affair with Trump.

In a recording Cohen’s attorneys released this week, Cohen tells Trump that he spoke to Weisselberg about how best to structure a deal to buy the rights to McDougal’s story.

“I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” Cohen said.

Trump, nonplussed, asks what the financial damage will be. A few moments later, Cohen reiterates that he “spoke to Allen about” the financing.

As the Wall Street Journal has reported, Cohen set up a Delaware limited liability company to buy the rights to McDougal’s account from tabloid giant American Media Inc. The National Enquirer, an AMI publication, had purchased McDougal’s story for $150,000 during the campaign but never released it in an alleged effort to help Trump.

Cohen ended up dissolving the LLC without ever making any payment to AMI, according to the Journal. Trump Organization attorney Alan Futerfas denied to the Washington Post that Cohen actually discussed the matter with Weisselberg, calling the CFO “a bookkeeper who simply carries out directions from others about monetary payments and transfers.”

The three men were involved in another unusual financial situation that did go through, however. In 2017, Weisselberg arranged for the Trump Organization to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 payment he made to adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about her own alleged affair with Trump. A source close to Weisselberg told the Journal that he was unaware of the payment to Daniels when he approved the $35,000 monthly retainer for Cohen.

Former prosecutors told TPM that attorneys in the Cohen case will want to know how much Weisselberg actually knew about these arrangements and whether these kind of payouts were standard practice for the Trump Organization.

“He’s going to be able to explain the financial records; he may be able to explain the thinking of Trump, Cohen, and other central individuals when the payments were made,” former Manhattan federal prosecutor Harry Sandick said. “He may know of records that exist that would also shed light on when and how they were made.”

Sandick noted that from the casual way Trump and Cohen discuss the AMI payment, “It doesn’t sound like a novel thing that’s never happened before. It sounds like something that happens all the time.”

Weisselberg has three options, prosecutors say. He can go in for what’s called a proffer session with the U.S. attorney’s office where he’ll take questions alongside his counsel and hand over any documents requested. He can agree to sit through grand jury testimony. Or he can plead the Fifth.

What route he goes will likely depend on the value of the information Weisselberg has to provide and how much liability he sees himself having. If he was, as Trump Organization attorney Futerfas put it, simply a “bookkeeper” with no intimate knowledge of the company’s more unorthodox dealings, he likely faces little legal exposure.

Rocah, the former Manhattan prosecutor, finds that line of defense unpersuasive: “It’s not like they called up 1-800-accountant. This is someone with a longstanding relationship that the [President] seem[s] to trust. So it’s gonna be hard for him to make that, ‘I had no idea’ defense.”

Complicating matters further is Weisselberg’s role as treasurer for the Donald J. Trump Foundation, the President’s beleaguered charity. In June, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood sued the foundation and its board—Trump and his three eldest children—for engaging in “a pattern of persistent illegal conduct.”

Though Weisselberg is not named as a defendant, his name is all over the complaint. In a quoted deposition, he admitted to not knowing he served as the foundation’s treasurer. He also copped to being intimately involved in improperly providing the charity’s funds to activities related to Trump’s 2016 campaign. Included in the complaint is a handwritten note from Trump directing “Allen W” to funnel $100,000 from the foundation to settle a personal legal matter—a violation of charitable tax law.

Seth Perlman, a New York-based non-profit attorney, said that as treasurer Weisselberg is ultimately “responsible for the finances of the organization.”

“He should be questioning what expenditures are being made,” Perlman continued. “That’s part of his job. Since there were no paid employees at this organization, he was also acting essentially as chief financial officer. So he’s really the primary person that should’ve been aware of what was happening and should have taken steps to stop it.”

Manhattan prosecutors will likely soon find out just how tuned in Weisselberg was to what was going on at the Trump Organization’s midtown headquarters.

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Veteran senior Trump Organization official Allen Weisselberg has been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in the criminal probe of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are investigating Cohen for a host of financial matters, including the hush money payments he made to women on Trump’s behalf. Sources familiar with the investigation told the Journal that Weisselberg is considered a witness in that investigation.

Weisselberg has worked at the Trump Organization since the 1970s, working his way up to become executive vice president and chief financial officer. He currently runs the business with Trump’s two adult sons. Weisselberg also served as the treasurer for the troubled Donald J. Trump Foundation, which was sued by the New York Attorney General for engaging in “repeated and willful self-dealing transactions to benefit Mr. Trump’s personal and business interests.”

The longtime ally of the president cropped up in a newly-released audio recording of Cohen and Trump discussing how to buy the rights of a former Playboy model’s account of her alleged 2006 affair with Trump. On the tape, which was made public by Cohen’s attorneys, Cohen said he spoke to “Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up.”

Cohen ultimately set up and dissolved an LLC without ever making any payments to AMI Inc., parent company of the National Inquirer, for Karen McDougal’s story.

But, as the Journal reported, Weisselberg did set up a $35,000 monthly retainer to Cohen through the Trump Organization that was used to reimburse him for the $130,000 he gave to adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep her from publicly discussing her alleged liason with Trump. A source told the newspaper that Weisselberg did not know about the payment to Daniels when he set up the retainer arrangement with Cohen.

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Last week’s Justice Department’s indictment of Russian national Mariia Butina refers to her as an “agent of a foreign government and official.”

The word “spy” does not appear anywhere in that six-page document, nor in the initial complaint against her, the accompanying 17-page affidavit filed by an FBI agent, or a 29-page request for pretrial detention. Butina has not been charged with espionage.

Still, she has been referred to as a “spy” by pundits and publications for her years-long effort to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and curry favor with high-level conservative operatives.

Experts on intelligence and the Russian political system told TPM that this is understandable. There’s a lot of overlap between the activities of “foreign agents,” “spies,” and unregistered “operatives.” The three-letter word also fits better in headlines.

But those experts caution that such a loose application of the term is unhelpful and actually works to conceal the specifics of what Butina was allegedly up to and on whose behalf. Spies are typically directly employed by a foreign government’s intelligence agency to gather and transmit information—particularly national defense secrets—back to their home country.

“The intelligence community distinguishes between agents/officers and assets,” Mike Carpenter, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense who focused on Russia, told TPM in an email. “The former are career spies on the agency’s payroll. They recruit the latter, often with money but also by taking advantage of ideological affinities, family connections, and blackmail.”

Butina, Carpenter continued, “seems more like an asset than an agent to me. My guess is she probably craved the access she had to senior Russian officials like [Russian Central Bank Deputy Governor Alexander] Torshin and was used by them as well as by Russia’s intelligence services, who saw in her an opportunity to create a front organization in the United States to penetrate the NRA and ‘2A’ political circles.”

Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor who worked under Robert Mueller in the Justice Department, said calling Butina a “spy” was an “inappropriate, sort of hyperbolic use of that word.”

“These are terms that have very specific meanings; they carry huge criminal penalties,” Zeldin said.

Butina was charged with one count of failing to register as a Russian agent, and another of engaging in conspiracy against the United States.

Court documents related to her case lay out in detail how she allegedly worked at Torshin’s direction to make high-level connections in the NRA and Congress in order to influence policy attitudes towards Russia.

Some of her alleged activities are striking. The FBI alleges that Butina maintained contact information for members of Russia’s intelligence agency, lied about still being employed by Torshin on her F-1 student visa application, and received funding from a billionaire Russian businessman.

But there is no indication that Butina worked directly for the Federal Security Service, or FSB. She and Torshin allegedly spoke openly about their plans in Twitter direct messages, rather than over encrypted apps. Intelligence experts say these sloppy communication habits strongly suggest that the 29-year-old was likely more of an eager freelancer than a skilled intelligence operative.

Anders Aslund, a Russia expert at the Atlantic Council, called Butina’s practices “extremely unprofessional.”

“Her tradecraft, her basic operational security was sufficiently amateurish that she does not strike me as someone who has been trained,” Mark Galeotti, a senior researcher focused on Russia at the Institute of International Relations Prague, added in a phone interview.

Galeotti suggested Butina was something of a “wannabe” and that he’d prefer the term “unregistered foreign operative or lobbyist” to “spy.”

“I go back to this description of political entrepreneur,” Galeotti continued. “This is the way the Russian system works. People who reckon they have some chance of building some kind of connection, acquiring some kind of access which they can then leverage—in effect monetize—whether it’s taking it to the state, taking it to some oligarch or minigarch who might therefore be willing to use it.”

In one alleged exchange cited by prosecutors, Torshin jokingly likened Butina to Anna Chapman, the similarly red-haired spy arrested in the U.S. in 2010 for “recruiting sources and collecting information for Russia.”

The DOJ complaint against Chapman, who was ultimately sent back to Russia as part of a spy swap with the U.S., notes that she and the fellow members of her spy ring worked “to hide all connections between themselves and Russia, even as they act at the direction and under the control of the SVR,” a division of Russia’s external intelligence agency.

That was not Butina’s alleged modus operandi. Though she lied about details of her biography in her interactions with GOP politicians and U.S. gun lobbyists, prosecutors allege, she openly sought to promote Russian interests.

Was it a covert influence operation? As described in the allegations, yes. Was she a spy? Not exactly.

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Federal prosecutors were granted access on Friday to 12 audio recordings seized from President Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen.

That development was formalized in a Monday letter by Barbara Jones, the special master overseeing the document review in Cohen’s criminal case. She announced that “the parties” involved no longer wanted to designate the recordings as protected by attorney-client privilege.

“On July 20, 2018, the parties withdrew their designations of ‘privileged’ as to 12 audio items that were under consideration by the special master,” Jones wrote. “Based upon those de-designations, the special master released the 12 items to the government that day.”

Cohen reportedly had a habit of secretly taping conversations. One such chat was a 2016 conversation between Cohen and Trump about hush money payments made to a former Playboy model who claimed to have an affair with Trump, as the New York Times first reported Friday.

Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, confirmed the report, but said the recording was “exculpatory” and showed no wrongdoing on Trump’s part.

Per CNN, Trump’s attorneys waived attorney-client privilege on his behalf on the recording about ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, and that it is among the 12 now in the government’s possession. CNN reported that it is the only tape of the 12 that features Trump.

The President appeared to be incensed that his onetime ally recorded their conversation, tweeting that it was “totally unheard of & perhaps illegal” for Cohen to do so.

New York is a “one-party state” that legally permits a person to record someone else without first obtaining consent.

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President Trump began the week by holding a historically disastrous press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Trump said he could think of no reason why Russia interfered in the 2016 election and called the special counsel investigation a “disaster.” Standing at his side, Putin dismissed the “so-called” interference as a sham, declined to deny that Russia had compromising material on Trump, and offered Russia’s help in analyzing U.S. intelligence about his country’s own election meddling.

The fallout was swift. Fox hosts, local and congressional Republicans and former intelligence chiefs described Trump’s performance with terms like “disgusting” and mused about what Putin has on the U.S. president. GOP leadership and Trump’s own intelligence officials again affirmed that Russia was responsible for the hacking and influence campaign. A few of Trump’s most loyal toadies defended him.

This backlash inspired an unbelievable (and rare) Trump walkback: He’d meant to say that he saw no reason why Russia “wouldn’t” have been involved in the attack, rather than “would.” White House staff are demoralized and the intelligence community said they’ve been left in the dark, with Trump going rogue and abandoning all the carefully laid plans for the one-on-one Putin summit.

Meanwhile, Moscow is releasing communiqués about various plans that the duo discussed, including a Putin visit to D.C. in the fall and their intention of hauling in former Obama officials for questioning. The Senate voted 98-0 to keep that from happening.

As all of this was unfolding, alleged covert Russian agent Mariia Butina was arrested, charged, and indicted for conspiring against the U.S. Butina allegedly used her romantic relationship with GOP operative Paul Erickson to forge connections with NRA leaders, congressmen, and other Republicans.

Butina was apparently carrying out this years-long influence operation at the direction of Russian official Alexander Torshin. Her attorney says she’s just a grad student who hoped for better relations between Russia and the U.S.

Butina is being held in a D.C. jail ahead of her trial because she’s been deemed an “extreme flight risk.” Cinematic court filings allege that she offered sex for access, planned to flee Washington, and had ties to Russian intelligence.

Russia and some of the Republicans she met, like Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (D-CA), insist the charges against Butina are “bogus. Russia’s foreign ministry even started a #FreeMariaButina campaign on social media.

The FBI is in possession of a number of recordings Michael Cohen made of his conversations with Trump, including one where the pair discussed a hush money payment to a former Playboy model. Cohen also reportedly made recordings of his calls with other “significant individuals.”

In a setback for Cohen, the special counsel overseeing document review in his case rejected over a third of his privilege claims.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is seeking immunity for five witnesses in the Manafort trial, which will get underway in Virginia next week. Attorneys from Mueller’s team also held a mysterious sealed hearing with lawyers for former Roger Stone aide Andrew Miller in a D.C. courtroom.

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Lordy, there are (lots of) tapes.

CNN reported Friday that President Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen secretly recorded multiple conversations between the two, including one about a payment made to a former Playboy model who says she slept with Trump.

According to CNN, the President had no idea the calls were being recorded. When he learned this week about the tapes, which are now in the possession of the FBI, he reportedly said, “I can’t believe Michael would do this to me.”

The New York Times broke the news earlier Friday that Cohen had recorded a fall 2016 call in which he and Trump discussed paying Karen McDougal to keep her quiet about her alleged 2006 affair with the president.

All of the recordings were seized in April when the FBI executed search warrants on Cohen’s premises as part of a criminal investigation into his finances. Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani confirmed the existence of the McDougal tape, but said the two-minute call showed no wrongdoing on Trump’s behalf and was actually “powerful exculpatory evidence.”

The McDougal tape appears to be the only Trump-Cohen recording “of substance,” according to a source of CNN’s Dana Bash.

But Bash noted on air that Cohen apparently recorded his calls not just with Trump but with “people around the president” and other “significant individuals.” CNN did not name any of those other individuals.

In addition to working as a longtime fixer for Trump and the Trump Organization, Cohen arranged a hush money deal for powerful GOP donor Elliott Broidy and did legal work for Fox News host Sean Hannity.

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Michael Cohen secretly recorded a 2016 conversation in which he and President Trump discussed paying hush money to a former Playboy model who claims she slept with Trump, the New York Times reported Friday. The FBI is in possession of the recording.

Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, confirmed that the taped conversation about the payments to Karen McDougal occurred. Giuliani told the Times that the brief recording contained no suggestion that Trump has “any knowledge of it in advance” and said it was actually “powerful exculpatory evidence.”

Giuliani also said that the recording is interrupted twice because “someone brings soda in for them,” suggesting the conversation happened in person rather than over the phone.

The Times reported that the conversation reportedly focused on the $150,000 that the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., gave to McDougal to “catch and kill” her story about her alleged yearlong 2006 affair with Trump, as well as an additional payment that Cohen planned to make directly to McDougal.

Maggie Haberman, one of the Times reporters who broke the story, said on CNN that Giuliani was trying to argue that Trump instructed Cohen to send the money by check “so that it was done properly, as opposed to cash,” which would not be traceable. That additional payment was never actually sent, Haberman said.

The Washington Post subsequently published a notably different account by a “person familiar with the recording.” That individual said that the pair discussed a plan for Cohen to try to purchase the rights to McDougal’s story from AMI for $150,000.

These differing accounts leave it not yet clear whether Trump and Cohen discussed sending an additional payment to McDougal, or instead reimbursing AMI the $150,000 it spent on McDougal’s story in order to take control of her rights.

The recording was among the huge trove of materials that the FBI seized from Cohen’s Manhattan office in an April raid. Cohen is under criminal investigation in New York for a host of financial dealings, including the payments he doled out during the 2016 campaign to silence women who claimed to have had sexual relationships with Trump.

Those payments could violate federal finance laws.

“Three people briefed on the matter” told the Times that Cohen’s lawyers discovered the recording when reviewing the seized materials for anything covered by attorney-client privilege, and shared it with Trump’s attorneys.

Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis told the Times he had “nothing to say on this matter.”

Later Friday afternoon, Davis sent a tweet saying the recording “will not hurt” Cohen.

The story of McDougal’s alleged affair with Trump came to light in March, when the former Playboy model sued AMI for an alleged breach of contract. McDougal said she sold the story of her affair to the tabloid, but that the publication, which is owned by Trump’s friend David Pecker, declined to publish it to protect Trump.

Former adult film star Stormy Daniels also received funds from Trump, via Cohen, to keep her silent about her own alleged affair with the president.

Rumors about Cohen’s habit of recording phone conversations first circulated when the FBI raided his office, apartment and hotel room in April. Friday’s revelation leaves open the possibility that the feds may have seized recordings of other conversations between Cohen and Trump.

This post has been updated.

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A court-appointed special master has shut down many of the latest requests by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen to keep hundreds of documents out of the hands of federal investigators.

Cohen’s lawyers have consistently argued that much of the material seized from his hotel room, office and apartment by the FBI is either protected by attorney-client privilege or highly personal.

But in a report filed Thursday, special master Barbara Jones determined that 1,452 of the 4,085 documents designated as privileged by Cohen’s legal team did not actually fit that designation. Jones agreed that the other 2,633 were either fully or partially privileged.

The non-privileged items will “promptly be released” to prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office for use in their criminal investigation into Cohen’s business and financial dealings, according to the filing. This is the second report Jones has issued on the trove of materials that federal agents seized from Cohen’s premises in an April raid.

Cohen recently shook up his legal team, replacing the attorneys at McDermott Will & Emery who assisted with the document review with former Manhattan prosecutor Guy Petrillo and former White House lawyer Lanny Davis. Since then, he has displayed a new willingness to cooperate with the federal investigation, telling the press that his loyalty is to his country and family rather than Trump.

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