New York, July 21 (AP/UNB) — 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 on Friday.
The recording by attorney Michael Cohen adds to questions about whether Trump tried to quash damaging stories in the run-up to his 2016 election. Trump's campaign had said it knew nothing about any payment to ex-centerfold Karen McDougal. It could also further entangle the president in a criminal investigation that for months has targeted Cohen, his onetime lawyer and close ally.
Current Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said the payment was never made and the brief recording shows Trump did nothing wrong.
"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 said.
One of Cohen's lawyers, Lanny Davis, said "any attempt at spin cannot change what is on the tape."
"When the recording is heard, it will not hurt Mr. Cohen," Davis said in a statement.
Cohen surreptitiously made the recording two months before the election, according to a person familiar with a federal investigation into Cohen. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the 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 deal to pay 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.
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, Trump and Cohen appear to be discussing buying the rights to McDougal's story from the Enquirer's parent company, according to the person familiar with the investigation.
McDougal's lawyer and an American Media spokesman didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment on Friday.
The recording, first reported by The New York Times, likely will revive questions about what other recordings of Trump's conversations might exist. As a businessman, Trump occasionally recorded his phone calls, a former Trump Organization executive told the AP last year, although Trump once denied doing so.
The FBI raided Cohen's office, home and hotel room in April, searching in part for information about payments to McDougal and porn actress Stormy Daniels, who received a $130,000 payment from Cohen before the election to keep quiet about a sexual relationship she says she had with Trump. Meanwhile, a government watchdog group has asked the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission to investigate whether American Media's payment to the former centerfold amounted to an unreported and illegal corporate campaign contribution.
The Cohen investigation, by federal prosecutors in New York, is separate from an ongoing inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Cohen hasn't been charged with any crime.
A self-described fixer for Trump for more than a decade, he said last year he would "take a bullet" for Trump. But he told an interviewer this month that he now puts "family and country first" and won't let anyone paint him as "a villain of this story." On Twitter, he scrubbed mentions and photos of Trump from a profile that previously identified him as "Personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump."
Cohen wouldn't say in the recent interview whether he would cooperate with prosecutors. If he decided to do so, it could be risky for the Republican president, given the pair's close relationship over the years.
McDougal's former attorney, Keith Davidson, has been cooperating with investigators in the Cohen probe, Davidson spokesman Dave Wedge has said. He declined to comment on Friday.
The Enquirer's payment to McDougal 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.
Hours before the Times revealed the recorded conversation, Cohen met in New York 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 questioning of 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."
United Nations, July 21 (AP/UNB) — The United States on Friday welcomed the U.N. Security Council's united support for the fully verified denuclearization of North Korea and pressed China and Russia to strictly enforce U.N. sanctions to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused North Korea of violating an array of tough sanctions imposed by the council. He warned that "when sanctions are not enforced, the prospects for the successful denuclearization of North Korea are diminished."
Nonetheless, Pompeo told reporters after meeting behind closed doors with the 15 council members that President Donald Trump "remains upbeat about the prospects for denuclearization" following his historic summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. "So do I, as progress is happening," he added without elaborating.
The Trump administration hopes that one day North Korea will be at the United Nations "not as a pariah but as a friend," Pompeo said. But "it will take full enforcement of sanctions for us to get there" as well as Kim following through "on his personal commitments" to Trump.
At the summit, Trump and Kim agreed to work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, without describing when and how it would occur.
Follow-up talks this month between Pompeo and North Korean senior officials in Pyongyang had a rocky start, with North Korea accusing the United States of making "unilateral and gangster-like" demands.
Pompeo stressed Friday that the 15 Security Council nations "are united on the need for final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea."
Pyongyang for decades has been pushing a concept of "denuclearization" that bears no resemblance to the American definition, vowing to pursue nuclear development unless Washington removes its 28,500 troops from South Korea and the nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan.
China, which is North Korea's closest ally and responsible for more than 90 percent of the isolated country's trade, backs North Korea's call for a "phased and synchronous" approach to denuclearization.
Last month, Beijing suggested the Security Council consider suspending or lifting sanctions on North Korea if it is in compliance with U.N. resolutions and making progress in negotiations. Russia said Friday it also backs this approach.
Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, said that Pompeo confirmed the U.S. "will seek the full denuclearization" of North Korea.
"It is necessary that the denuclearization go step by step with parallel actions by the international community," Polyansky said. "We are talking about easing sanctions pressure through the U.N. Security Council, as well as the removal of unilateral U.S. sanctions."
Some exemptions have already taken place.
This week, South Korea received exemptions from the Security Council committee monitoring North Korea sanctions for communications lines between the North and South and for some goods for the North including furniture, transport vehicles and a bus.
The U.S. has pushed for rapid moves toward ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons and says sanctions will remain until Pyongyang follows through on Kim's pledge. But Trump has recently been playing down expectations of quick results, saying this week there was "no time limit" on getting North Korea to denuclearize.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, standing beside Pompeo, made clear that Kim Jong Un must take action first.
"We continue to reiterate we can't do one thing until we see North Korea respond to their promise to denuclearize," Haley said. "We have to see some sort of action. And so until that action happens, the Security Council is going to hold tight."
As for the broader international community, she said, "we ask you to hold tight as we go forward."
Pompeo said "the scope and scale" of denuclearization "is agreed to" and "the North Koreans understand what that means," though he didn't elaborate and sidestepped a question on what the first step should be.
"We need to see chairman Kim do what he promised the world he would do," Pompeo said.
Chinese Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu said that "China is committed to denuclearization" and "to peace and stability on the Peninsula." He added that China will "fully implement" U.N. sanctions resolutions, adding that "everyone" else should as well.
But, Pompeo said, North Korea is "illegally smuggling" in refined petroleum products beyond the quota of 500,000 barrels per year allowed under U.N. sanctions, mainly by ship-to-ship transfers.
U.S. documents sent to the committee and obtained by The Associated Press cite 89 instances between Jan. 1 and May 30 in which North Korean tankers likely delivered refined products "illicitly procured" via such transfers.
The U.S. says Russia and China both informed the sanctions committee that they were supplying refined products to North Korea.
Pompeo said North Korea is also evading sanctions by smuggling coal by sea and across borders, through cyber thefts and other criminal activities, and by keeping workers in some countries that he didn't name.
These actions are all "generating significant revenues for the regime and they must be stopped," he said.
Haley criticized "some friends who want to go around the rules," and especially Russia and China for blocking the sanctions committee from demanding that all countries halt shipments of petroleum products to North Korea immediately.
Moscow and Beijing said they need additional time to investigate the U.S. allegations and put a six-month "hold" on the U.S. request.
"Are they telling us that they want to continue supplying this oil?" Haley asked. "They claim they need more information. We don't need any more information. The sanctions committee has what it needs. We all know it's going forward."
Dutch Ambassador Karel Van Oosterom said the Security Council made clear to Pompeo that it wants to see "concrete actions and deeds" from North Korea to denuclearize.
Van Oosterom, who chairs the North Korea sanctions committee, told reporters: "I think for all of us it's clear that the progress is in the talks so far, that the engagement is there and the discussions are taking place."
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said North Korea made "a clear commitment on complete denuclearization repeatedly and, of course, very forcefully at the Singapore summit with President Trump, and we will hold them up to that commitment."
New York, July 20 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer secretly recorded Trump discussing payments to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with him, The New York Times reported Friday.
The president's current personal lawyer confirmed the conversation and said it showed Trump did nothing wrong, according to the Times.
Citing lawyers and others familiar with the recording, The Times said attorney Michael Cohen made the recording two months before Trump's 2016 election. The newspaper said the FBI seized the recording during an April raid on Cohen's office amid an investigation into his business dealings.
People familiar with the investigation have told The Associated Press that the raid sought, among other things, any information on payments made in 2016 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who says she had an affair with Trump in 2006. He denies it.
The Wall Street Journal revealed, days before the election, that the National Enquirer — run by Trump supporter David Pecker — had paid $150,000 to silence McDougal. At the time, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said, "We have no knowledge of any of this."
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the Times the Republican president did discuss the payments to McDougal with Cohen on the less than two-minute-long recording, but that the payment was never made.
Giuliani says Trump told Cohen that if he did make a payment, to do it by check so it could be documented.
"Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance," Giuliani told the newspaper. "In the big scheme of things, it's powerful exculpatory evidence."
Giuliani and Cohen haven't immediately responded to messages from The Associated Press. Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis declined to comment to the Times.
McDougal's lawyer, Peter Stris, did not immediately respond to a message.
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."
Washington, Jun 21 (AP/UNB)— Bowing to pressure from anxious allies, President Donald Trump abruptly reversed himself Wednesday and signed an executive order halting his administration's policy of separating children from their parents when they are detained illegally crossing the U.S. border.
It was a dramatic turnaround for Trump, who has been insisting, wrongly, that his administration had no choice but to separate families apprehended at the border because of federal law and a court decision.
The order does not end the "zero-tolerance" policy that criminally prosecutes all adults caught crossing the border illegally. But, at least for the next few weeks, it would keep families together while they are in custody, expedite their cases and ask the Defense Department to help house them. It also doesn't change anything yet for the some 2,300 children taken from their families since the policy was put into place.
The news in recent days has been dominated by searing images of children held in cages at border facilities, as well as audio recordings of young children crying for their parents — images that have sparked fury, questions of morality and concern from Republicans about a negative impact on their races in November's midterm elections.
Until Wednesday, the president, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other officials had repeatedly argued the only way to end the practice was for Congress to pass new legislation, while Democrats said Trump could do it with his signature alone. That's just what he did.
"We're going to have strong, very strong borders, but we're going to keep the families together," said Trump, who added that he didn't like the "sight" or "feeling" of children separated from their parents.
Under a previous class-action settlement that set policies for the treatment and release of minors caught at the border, families can only be detained for 20 days. A senior Justice Department official said that hasn't changed.
"This is a stopgap measure," said Gene Hamilton, counsel to the attorney general. Justice lawyers were planning to file a challenge to the agreement, known as the Flores settlement, asking that a judge allow for the detention of families until criminal and removal proceedings are completed.
So Trump's order is likely to create a fresh set of problems and may well spark a new court fight. It's unclear what happens if no changes to law or the settlement take place by the time families reach the detainment deadline. The language also leaves room to separate children from parents if it's best for the child's welfare.
And it didn't do much for the teeming outrage over the issue. The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center said the order didn't go nearly far enough.
"The administration still plans to criminalize families — including children — by holding them in prison-like detention facilities. There are workable alternatives," president Richard Cohen said in a statement.
It's also unclear what will happen to the children already separated. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said his department will start reuniting detained immigrant children with their parents — but he made no specific commitment on how quickly that can be accomplished. And officials said the cases of the children already separated and turned over to their custody would proceed as usual.
Trump's family apparently played a role in his turnaround.
A White House official said first lady Melania Trump had been making her opinion known to the president for some time that she felt he needed to do all he could to help families stay together, whether by working with Congress or acting on his own.
And daughter Ivanka Trump tweeted, "Thank you @POTUS for taking critical action ending family separation at our border."
Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday, and those on the fence over pending immigration legislation headed to the White House to meet with Trump. Assessments for possible detention facilities at military bases have already been done in Texas and another is expected in Arkansas on Thursday.
Two people close to Nielsen said she was the driving force behind the turnabout that led to the new order keeping families together. Those people were not authorized to speak publicly and commented only on condition of anonymity.
One of them said Nielsen, who had become the face of the administration's policy, had little faith that Congress would act to fix the separation issue and felt compelled to act. She was heckled at a restaurant Tuesday evening and has faced protesters at her home.
Trump had tweeted early Wednesday, before issuing his order: "It's the Democrats fault, they won't give us the votes needed to pass good immigration legislation. They want open borders, which breeds horrible crime. Republicans want security. But I am working on something - it never ends!"
The "zero tolerance" policy put into place last month moves adults to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The policy had led to a spike in family separations in recent weeks, with more than 2,300 minors separated from their families at the border from May 5 through June 9, according to Homeland Security.
The Flores settlement, named for a teenage girl who brought the case in the 1980s, requires the government to release children from custody and to their parents, adult relatives or other caretakers, in order of preference. If those options are exhausted, authorities must find the "least restrictive" setting for a child who arrived without parents.
Peter Schey, class-appointed counsel in the Flores case, said Wednesday there was nothing in the agreement that prevents Homeland Security officials from detaining children with their parents, "as long as the conditions of detention are humane and the child remains eligible for release, unless the child is a flight risk, or a danger to herself or others, or the child's parent does not wish the child to be released."
He said he was looking into whether the court could block deportation of parents until they have been reunited with their children, and whether it could force the Trump administration to reunite those separated.
In 2015, a federal judge in Los Angeles expanded the terms of the settlement, ruling that it applies to children who are caught with their parents as well as to those who come to the U.S. alone. Other recent rulings, upheld on appeal, affirm the children's rights to a bond hearing and require better conditions at the Border Patrol's short-term holding facilities.
In 2016, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that child migrants who came to the border with parents and were held in custody must be released. The decision did not state parents must be released. Neither, though, did it require parents to be kept in detention, apart from their children.
Washington, May 23 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump labored with South Korea's Moon Jae-in Tuesday to keep the highly anticipated U.S. summit with North Korea on track after Trump abruptly cast doubt that the June 12 meeting would come off. Setting the stakes sky high, Moon said, "The fate and the future of the Korean Peninsula hinge" on the meeting.
The summit, planned for Singapore, offers a historic chance for peace on the peninsula — but also the risk of an epic diplomatic failure that would allow the North to revive and advance its nuclear weapons program.
Trump's newfound hesitation appeared to reflect recent setbacks in efforts to bring about reconciliation between the two Koreas, as well as concern whether the self-proclaimed dealmaker can deliver a nuclear accord with the North's Kim Jong Un.
In an extraordinary public airing of growing uncertainty, Trump said "there's a very substantial chance" the meeting won't happen as scheduled.
Seated in the Oval Office with Moon, Trump said Kim had not met unspecified "conditions" for the summit. However, the president also said he believed Kim was "serious" about negotiations, and Moon expressed "every confidence" in Trump's ability to hold the summit and bring about peace.
"I have no doubt that you will be able to ... accomplish a historic feat that no one had been able to achieve in the decades past," Moon said.
U.S. officials said preparations for the summit were still underway despite recent pessimism — and privately suggested there would be additional public maneuvering as both sides seek to maximize their leverage. Both parties to the talks are invested in holding the meeting, with Kim seeing an opportunity for international legitimacy and Trump the prospect of securing Korean stability — and perhaps a Nobel Peace Prize.
"This could be something that comes right to the end and doesn't happen," said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. But he added that as of now, "we're driving on." South Korea's national security adviser put the chance of the summit taking place at 99.9 percent.
Trump suggested that it could be delayed rather than canceled: "It may not work out for June 12, but there is a good chance that we'll have the meeting."
He did not detail the conditions he had laid out for Kim but said if they aren't met, "we won't have the meeting." Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump was referring to a commitment to seriously discuss denuclearization.
Skepticism about the North's intentions have mounted in recent weeks after Kim's government pulled out of planned peace talks with the South last week, objecting to long-scheduled joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces. The North also threatened to abandon the planned Trump-Kim meeting over U.S. insistence on rapidly denuclearizing the peninsula, issuing a harshly worded statement that the White House dismissed as a negotiating ploy.
Moon sought to project optimism after his meeting with Trump. His spokesman, Yoon Young-chan, told reporters that the two leaders agreed to do their best to ensure the meeting happens on June 12. Yoon said Moon told Trump that the North Korean leader was strongly committed to the meeting and the leaders agreed that any assistance to North Korea would come after complete denuclearization. High-level talks between the North and South would likely happen after June 25.
Trump expressed suspicion that the North's recent aggressive barbs were influenced by Kim's unannounced trip to China two weeks ago — his second in as many months. Trump said he'd noticed "a little change" in Kim's attitude after the trip.
"I don't like that," he said.
The president added that he hoped Chinese President Xi Jinping was actually committed to the goal of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, calling him a "world-class poker player." Trump said he was displeased by China's softening of border enforcement measures against North Korea.
Trump encouraged Kim to focus on the opportunities offered by the meeting and to make a deal to abandon his nuclear program, pledging not only to guarantee Kim's personal security but also predicting an economic revitalization for the North.
"I will guarantee his safety, yes," Trump said, noting that promise was conditioned on an agreement to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. Trump said if such an agreement is reached, China, Japan and South Korea would invest large sums to "make North Korea great."
In North Korea itself, foreign journalists arrived to watch the dismantling of a nuclear test site this week in a significant concession before the Trump talks.
However, fresh questions were raised Tuesday about the North's goals and motives, with the disclosure of a Pentagon report to Congress saying that nuclear weapons are central to North Korea's strategic goal of ensuring the perpetual rule of the Kim family dynasty. The report on North Korea's military capabilities was based on an assessment of developments in 2017 and was provided to Congress in April. It was posted online by an anti-secrecy group.
Ahead of the North Korea meeting, the president has been almost singularly focused on the pageantry of the summit —including the suspenseful roll-out of details, senior administration officials said. The White House turned heads this week with the release of a commemorative "challenge coin" for the summit, featuring profile engravings of Trump and Kim for the "peace talks." The White House said the coins were prepared by the White House Communications Agency, a military unit supporting the president's trip, and not the West Wing.
Trump has not been deeply engaged in briefing materials on North Korea's nuclear program, according to three people with knowledge of the White House efforts. They were not authorized to speak publicly.
Trump said the long-term status of the peninsula will be up to the North and South, and that the immediate goal for his summit is "two successful Koreas."
He added that, "Ultimately, maybe someday in the future" you'll "go back to one Korea."
The two Koreas both seek reunification of the divided Korean Peninsula on their own terms. But any move toward reunification would first likely require a peace settlement to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, which the two Koreas say they are aiming for.