RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Michael Cohen has served President Donald Trump for many years as his personal lawyer. And in that role, he often applied legal pressure in the form of threats to try and stop people from causing Trump any trouble. That included a reporter for The Daily Beast. He was writing a story in 2015 that Cohen thought would be unflattering to then-candidate Trump.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MICHAEL COHEN: So I'm warning you, tread very [expletive] lightly because what I'm going to do to you is going to be [expletive] disgusting. Do you understand me? Don't think you can hide behind your pen because it's not going to happen.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Look, I'm...
COHEN: And if you have any - I'm more than happy to discuss it with your attorney and with your legal counsel because [expletive], you're going to need it.
MARTIN: The reporter Cohen is talking to there is Tim Mak, who now works with us here at NPR. And he is bringing this recording of Michael Cohen to light for the first time. Tim joins us in our studios.
MARTIN: All right, give us a backstory here. How did you end up on this particular phone call with Michael Cohen?
MAK: So just to put this in context, this was in 2015. Trump's campaign had just launched. And you remember that opening campaign speech where he talked about Mexican immigrants?
MAK: He referred to a lot of them as criminals and drug dealers and even rapists.
MARTIN: Rapists, right.
MAK: You know, so I started reporting a story on accusations made in a 1993 book. And according to that book, Trump's first wife, Ivana, had said in a sworn deposition during their divorce that Trump had raped her. Now, she later said she didn't mean it in a legal or criminal sense, and she now praises Trump. And he denies it ever happened. But I reached out to the campaign for comment about this original claim. And I didn't get a call back from the campaign. I got a call back from Michael Cohen. And he started out by saying, hey, you shouldn't write this story because, actually, spousal rape isn't a crime. Now, it is a crime.
MARTIN: It is a crime.
MAK: And Michael Cohen is a lawyer in the state of New York and should have known that. And the conversation really escalated from there.
MARTIN: It sounds like this fits into a pattern of behavior that many people have seen from Cohen when he thinks that they're crossing Trump. This is something he has done before, intimidate people.
MAK: Yeah. And we put a longer version of the conversation on npr.org, about seven minutes of this conversation. You can hear it. And basically, what you can tell is this is not the first time that Michael Cohen has picked up the phone and made legal threats like this. After a Harvard student pranked Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign, for example, he told - this student, Tom Waddick, said that Michael Cohen called up yelling and screaming and trying to - threatening to have him expelled and threatening a lawsuit, you know?
He retweeted someone who said about Megyn Kelly after a contentious Republican debate, we can gut her. And he talks a lot about himself in our conversation in 2015, basically, about how he and Trump sued Univision for dropping out of the Miss USA pageants. Listen to this later on in our conversation for The Daily Beast in 2015.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
COHEN: I think you should go ahead, and you should write the story that you plan on writing. I think you should do it because I think you're an idiot. All right? And I think your paper's a joke. And it’s going to be my absolute pleasure to serve you with a $500 million lawsuit, like I told - I did to Univision.
MARTIN: Was there a lawsuit, Tim?
MAK: So no. He, ultimately, did not file a lawsuit against either me or The Daily Beast. And in fact, another Trump lawyer got in touch with us and The Daily Beast's lawyers after Cohen had made the call. So it kind of shows how Cohen's role wasn't even primarily a traditional legal role - right? - that he was, in particular - at least in this case - being used for intimidation matters.
MARTIN: Does Cohen have anything to say about these tapes now that they're out there?
MAK: Well, we gave him and his lawyers a couple days to respond, and we haven't heard anything from them. And he's, of course, in his own legal situation right now.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Tim Mak, thanks so much.
MAK: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.