According to the Times report, the conversation about payments to Karen McDougal occurred two months before the election.
The F.B.I. seized the recording this year during a raid on Mr. Cohen’s office. The Justice Department is investigating Mr. Cohen’s involvement in paying women to tamp down embarrassing news stories about Mr. Trump ahead of the 2016 election. Prosecutors want to know whether that violated federal campaign finance laws, and any conversation with Mr. Trump about those payments would be of keen interest to them.
The recording’s existence further draws Mr. Trump into questions about tactics he and his associates used to keep aspects of his personal and business life a secret. And it highlights the potential legal and political danger that Mr. Cohen represents to Mr. Trump. Once the keeper of many of Mr. Trump’s secrets, Mr. Cohen is now seen as increasingly willing to consider cooperating with prosecutors.
Rudy Giuliani confirmed that the conversation took place, but said it lasted less than two minutes and payment was never made. Of course, Giuliani seems willing to say anything these days.
We do know that Trump's friend, David Pecker of the National Enquirer, bought McDougal's story, then didn't run it. So McDougal did receive a payment, but from a friend of Trump. Keep in mind, McDougal was represented by Keith Davidson, the same attorney who represented Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) a few months earlier in her agreement with Trump. In that case, Cohen was the attorney for Trump (aka David Dennison).
On Cohen's roster of three clients, there was also Elliot Broidy. Broidy paid off another model to hide an alleged affair and pregnancy. There is speculation that Broidy was enlisted as cover for yet another Trump affair and payoff. Coincidentally, the woman in that case was also represented by Keith Davidson.
If Pecker and Broidy's payments were used to protect the Trump campaign from revelations about his affairs, the payments could constitute illegal campaign contributions. This is how the Cohen tape could matter. If the recorded conversation shows that Trump knew of backdoor payments to silence women with whom he had affairs, and if the purpose was to protect the campaign, Trump could be implicated in a criminal conspiracy to evade federal campaign finance laws.
My question now is: who leaked this? Was it Cohen, perhaps pressuring Trump to help him? Was it some gossip in the SDNY's office or did the SDNY deliberately leak this to pressure Cohen or someone else? If it was the SDNY's office, was there coordination or approval from Mueller?