Trump's allies worry that federal investigators may have
seized recordings made by his attorney
By Ashley Parker, Carol D. Leonnig, Josh Dawsey and Tom
Hamburger April 13 at 9:25 AM Email the author
President Trump's personal attorney Michael D. Cohen
sometimes taped conversations with associates, according to
three people familiar with his practice, and allies of the
president are worried that the recordings were seized by
federal investigators in a raid of Cohen's office and
residences this week.
Cohen, who served for a decade as a lawyer at the Trump
Organization and is a close confidant of Trump's, was known
to store the conversations using digital files and then
replay them for colleagues, according to people who have
interacted with him.
"We heard he had some proclivity to make tapes," said one
Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity
because of the ongoing investigation. "Now we are wondering,
who did he tape? Did he store those someplace where they
were actually seized? . . . Did they find his
recordings?" Cohen did not respond to requests for comment. Stephen Ryan,
an attorney for Cohen, declined to comment. A White House
spokeswoman referred a request for comment to Cohen and his
On Monday, FBI agents seized Cohen's computers and phones as
they executed a search warrant that sought, among other
records, all communications between the lawyer and Trump and
campaign aides about "potential sources of negative
publicity" in the lead-up to the 2016 election, The
Washington Post reported.
Michael D. Cohen, President Trump's personal attorney,
reportedly was known for occasionally recording calls with
associates. (Justin Lane/Epa-Efe/Shutterstock)
Investigators were also looking for any records related to
adult-film star Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen
McDougal, who both received payments after alleged affairs
In New York, a hearing was scheduled Friday over Cohen's
efforts to prevent the government from using material seized
in the raids.
[Federal probe into Trump's lawyer seeks records about two
women who alleged affairs with the president]
It is unknown whether Cohen taped conversations between
himself and Trump. But two people familiar with Cohen's
practices said he recorded both business and political
conversations. One associate said Trump knew of Cohen's
practice because the attorney would often play him
recordings Cohen had made of his conversations with other
top Trump advisers.
"It was his standard practice to do it," this person said. Legal experts said Cohen's taped conversations would be
viewed by prosecutors as highly valuable.
"If you are looking for evidence, you can't do any better
than people talking on tape," said Nick Akerman, a former
Such recordings "would be considered a gold mine," said
Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University who
specializes in legal ethics.
"The significance is 9.5 to 10 on a 10-point scale," he
added, noting that investigators know "that when people
speak on the phone, they are not guarded. They don't imagine
that the conversation will surface." Federal investigators would not automatically get access to
any tapes that might have been seized in the raids. First,
the recordings would be reviewed by a separate Justice
Department team and possibly by a federal judge. The review
is designed to protect lawyer-client privilege and to be
sure that the conversations turned over are within the terms
of the search warrant, legal experts said.
They noted that the privilege accorded to attorney-client
communications does not apply if the conversation was
conducted to further commission of a crime or fraud.
Cohen wanted his business calls on tape so he could use them
later as leverage, one person said. He frequently noted that
under New York law, only one party had to consent to the
taping of a conversation, this person added.
During the 2016 race, Cohen -- who did not have a formal
role on the campaign -- had a reputation among campaign
staff as someone to avoid, in part because he was believed
to be secretly taping conversations.
In one instance, Cohen played a recording of a conversation
he had with someone else to a Trump campaign official to
demonstrate that he was in a position to challenge that
person's veracity if necessary, an associate recalled.
Cohen indicated that he had something to use against the
person he had taped, the associate said.
One outside Trump adviser said Cohen may have begun
recording his conversations in an attempt to emulate his
boss, who has long boasted -- often with no evidence --
about secretly taping private conversations. In May, for instance, a report appeared in the New York
Times detailing fired FBI director James B. Comey's account
of a one-on-one dinner he had with the president, during
which he said Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty to the
president and he declined. Shortly after, Trump took to
Twitter to cast doubt on Comey's version of events, seeming
to imply that he had secretly recorded their encounter.
"James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our
conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" Trump
At the time, it was unclear whether Trump truly possessed
tapes of his conversation with Comey or was simply trying to
intimidate him. And ultimately, just over a month later,
Trump cleared up the mystery by admitting in a duo of tweets
that he had not, in fact, recorded Comey.
"With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance,
intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I
have no idea whether there are 'tapes' or recordings of my
conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do
not have, any such recordings," he wrote. Tim O'Brien, a Trump biographer and executive editor of
Bloomberg View, wrote a column in the wake of Trump's taping
claim saying that Comey probably had little reason to worry.
In the piece, O'Brien recounted that Trump frequently made a
similar boast to him.
"Back in the early 2000s, Trump used to tell me all the time
that he was recording me when I covered him as reporter for
the New York Times," O'Brien wrote. "He also said the same
thing when I was writing a biography of him, 'Trump Nation.'
I never thought he was, but who could be sure?"
But after Trump sued him for libel shortly after his
biography came out, O'Brien's lawyers deposed Trump in
December 2007 -- during which Trump admitted he had not, in
fact, clandestinely taped O'Brien. "I'm not equipped to tape-record," Trump said in the
deposition. "I may have said it once or twice to him just to
-- on the telephone, because everything I said to him he'd
write incorrectly; so just to try and keep it honest."
Robert Costa contributed to this report.
Posted on RetroBBS II
Lying from the very start, this guy was:
The Washington Post
Democracy Dies in Darkness
Trump lied to me about his wealth to get onto the Forbes
400. Here are the tapes.
Posing as 'John Barron,' he claimed he owned most of his
father's real estate empire.
By Jonathan Greenberg April 20 at 5:30 AM Follow
(Doug Chayka/For The Washington Post)
In May 1984, an official from the Trump Organization called
to tell me how rich Donald J. Trump was. I was reporting for
the Forbes 400, the magazine's annual ranking of America's
richest people, for the third year. In the previous edition,
we'd valued Trump's holdings at $200 million, only one-fifth
of what he claimed to own in our interviews. This time, his
aide urged me on the phone, I needed to understand just how
loaded Trump really was.
The official was John Barron -- a name we now know as an
alter ego of Trump himself. When I recently rediscovered and
listened, for first time since that year, to the tapes I
made of this and other phone calls, I was amazed that I
didn't see through the ruse: Although Trump altered some
cadences and affected a slightly stronger New York accent,
it was clearly him. "Barron" told me that Trump had taken
possession of the business he ran with his father, Fred.
"Most of the assets have been consolidated to Mr. Trump," he
said. "You have down Fred Trump [as half owner] . . .
but I think you can really use Donald Trump now." Trump,
through this sockpuppet, was telling me he owned "in excess
of 90 percent" of his family's business. With all the home
runs Trump was hitting in real estate, Barron told me, he
should be called a billionaire.
At the time, I suspected that some of this was untrue. I ran
Trump's assertions to the ground, and for many years I was
proud of the fact that Forbes had called him on his
distortions and based his net worth on what I thought was
But it took decades to unwind the elaborate farce Trump had
enacted to project an image as one of the richest people in
America. Nearly every assertion supporting that claim was
untrue. Trump wasn't just poorer than he said he was. Over
time, I have learned that he should not have been on the
first three Forbes 400 lists at all. In our first-ever list,
in 1982, we included him at $100 million, but Trump was
actually worth roughly $5 million -- a paltry sum by the
standards of his super-monied peers -- as a spate of
government reports and books showed only much later.
The White House declined to comment for this story. The
Trump Organization did not respond to a request for
I was a determined 25-year-old reporter, and I thought that,
by reeling Trump back from some of his more outrageous
claims, I'd done a public service and exposed the truth. But
his confident deceptions were so big that they had an
unexpected effect: Instead of believing that they were
outright fabrications, my Forbes colleagues and I saw them
simply as vain embellishments on the truth. We were so
This was a model Trump would use for the rest of his career,
telling a lie so cosmic that people believed that some
kernel of it had to be real. The tactic landed him a place
he hadn't earned on the Forbes list -- and led to future
accolades, press coverage and deals. It eventually paved a
path toward the presidency.
*** *** *** ***
Malcolm Forbes came up with the idea of the Forbes 400 in
1981 and assigned me to spend a year traveling around the
country and interviewing wealthy people and those who worked
with them about one another. The most challenging sector was
private real estate wealth. My grandfather had been an
accountant to a number of major New York developers, so I
had the advantage of knowing many of the players there. But
the reporting was opaque, because so few of the relevant
financial documents were public; we relied
disproportionately on what people told us. As the project
progressed, other experienced reporters and editors joined
what would become the most successful annual special issue
in Forbes history.
From the beginning, Trump was obsessed. The project could
offer a clear, supposedly authoritative declaration of his
status as a player, and while many of the super-rich wanted
to keep their names off the ranking, Trump was desperate to
[I sold Trump $100,000 worth of pianos. Then he stiffed
When I first contacted him for the inaugural issue, Trump
pulled out all the stops to convince me that he was the
wealthiest real estate developer in New York. At an
afternoon-long meeting in his cavernous Fifth Avenue office,
he argued that his family was worth more than $900 million
and deserved to be higher on our list than any of the far
more accomplished developers (with names like Rose and
Rudin) who had spent generations building top-tier housing
in the golden borough of Manhattan. His father, Fred Trump,
was well known for building nearly all the apartments that
the Trump Organization owned before Donald even joined the
company, so it amazed me when Donald claimed that he, and
not his father, possessed 80 percent of the 23,000
apartments he said they had in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten
Island. He added that these were almost debt free and worth
I questioned his valuation. Trump shrugged and said, "Okay,
then $20,000 each." That would mean his family was worth
some $500 million, still atop our list for New York real
But that figure seemed high. I estimated the apartments to
be worth about $9,000 each: They could not easily be
converted to lucrative co-ops, and Trump had falsely
described the location of the Queens buildings. He'd claimed
they were in Forest Hills when, in fact, they were in the
far less valuable Jamaica Estates neighborhood a few miles
away. Since Donald's new projects were still in development
or unproven, the outer-borough apartments formed the basis
of a Trump family net worth estimate of $200 million.
Six weeks after my initial interview, I received a call at
my desk from Trump's secretary and gatekeeper, Norma
Foerderer . She said she wanted my work address so Trump
could send me an invitation to a company party. Then she
abruptly added: "Oh, Donald was just passing by! He said
that he wanted to have a few words with you."
I switched on my audio recorder -- my normal practice -- as
Trump expressed his concern for what he called "your little
article." He invited me for a follow-up interview with him
because, he said, he was richer than the rest. "I don't
think that you have your facts 100 percent correct" about
his standing vis-a-vis other New York developers. I was
contemplating a too-low appraisal of his net worth, he said:
"You had us down in a certain category, and then you
mentioned other names, and there's no contest, you know. I
mean, there's no contest. So I just wanted to mention
Trump knew I had doubts about his assertions, so he had his
lawyer, Roy Cohn, call me. Cohn spent most of his time
threatening lawsuits, schmoozing with mobster clients and
badgering reporters with off-the-record utterances that made
his clients look good and their enemies look bad. Cohn
surprised me at my Forbes desk that summer: "Jon Greenberg,"
a scrappy voice bellowed, before I could connect my tape
recorder. I took notes by hand. "This is Roy. Roy Cohn! You
can't quote me! But Donny tells me you're putting together
this list of rich people. He says you've got him down for
just $200 million! That's way too low, way too low! Listen,
I'm Donny's personal lawyer, but he said I could talk to you
about this. I am sitting here looking at his current bank
statement. It shows he's got more than $500 million in
liquid assets, just cash. That's just Donald, nothing to do
with Fred, and it's just cash." He concluded: "He's worth
more than any of those other guys in this town!"
I offered to have a messenger pick up the bank statement at
his office. Cohn protested that the document was
confidential. "Just trust me," he said. I told him I
wouldn't take his word without seeing the paperwork. "It's
confidential!" Cohn yelled.
[I study liars. I've never seen one like President Trump.]
My Forbes editors and I spent many hours deliberating about
where to place Trump. Based on what little we knew -- his
claims; a 1976 New York Times profile that said the Trump
Organization owned 22,000 apartments; and Fred's reputation
for housing a generation of working-class New Yorkers in
Brooklyn and Queens -- we ranked Donald and Fred in the
bottom tier among major real-estate developers, each with
half of a $200 million apartment empire.
Even though I learned later that this was far more money
than Donald possessed, it did not satisfy him for the
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