Why Special Counsel Mueller Might Be Interested In Trump's 'Access Hollywood' Tape

Apr 12, 2018
Originally published on April 12, 2018 9:42 pm
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The infamous "Access Hollywood" video is again in the news. Multiple outlets are reporting that FBI agents were looking for evidence related to the video on Monday when they raided the office of President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. NPR's Tamara Keith explores why the video might be of interest to investigators.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It was Friday, October 7, 2016, late in the afternoon when The Washington Post broke the story. There was a video shot by the entertainment news show "Access Hollywood" in 2005 and never before released with then-reality TV star Donald Trump using vulgar language to describe his treatment of women.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

BILLY BUSH: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab them by the [expletive].

BUSH: (Laughter).

TRUMP: You can do anything.

KEITH: That video was an existential crisis moment for Trump's campaign and prompted a rare apology from the candidate. But what does that have to do with the FBI? The answer is we don't know for sure. But one theory is it relates to the $130,000 payment Trump lawyer Michael Cohen made to adult film actress and director Stormy Daniels after she agreed to sign a nondisclosure agreement in late October 2016. She claims to have had an affair with Trump in 2006 and told her story last month on "60 Minutes."

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ANDERSON COOPER: Was it hush money to stay silent?

STORMY DANIELS: Yes. The story was coming out again.

KEITH: And the reason it was coming out at least in part goes back to the "Access Hollywood" video. Two days after the video came out, Trump was questioned about it in a televised debate and said this.

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TRUMP: Nobody has more respect for women than I do. I'm saying...

COOPER: So for the record, you're saying you never did that.

TRUMP: ...I said things that frankly, you hear these things I said - and I was embarrassed by it. But I have tremendous respect for women...

COOPER: Have you ever done those things?

TRUMP: ...And women have respect for me. And I will tell you, no, I have not.

KEITH: But then women started coming forward, several of whom said they were upset by his denial.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Another woman has now come forward to accuse Donald Trump of inappropriately touching her. She says...

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: That avalanche of accusations against Donald Trump...

KEITH: In a legal filing, Daniels' attorney says she decided to tell her story, too, and began conversations with various media outlets, which brought her to the attention of Michael Cohen. Ten days after the "Access Hollywood" video came out, Cohen created the limited liability corporation that would on the eve of the election enter into a nondisclosure agreement with Daniels to prevent her from going public.

Paul S. Ryan is the vice president for policy and litigation with Common Cause, which earlier this year filed complaints with the Federal Elections Commission and the Justice Department about the Stormy Daniels payment. Their argument is that it was an illegal campaign contribution. He thinks investigators could be interested in the "Access Hollywood" video because it gets at motive - why it would be important to keep other allegations from coming out.

PAUL S RYAN: Any concern that Michael Cohen had about the "Access Hollywood" tape having gone public, any concern that was shared by Donald Trump may be relevant to explaining why Michael Cohen and perhaps Donald Trump paid Stormy Daniels when they did to keep her quiet.

KEITH: If Cohen paid Daniels to keep her story from getting to voters, that could be a violation of campaign finance law, says Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine.

RICK HASEN: If Cohen was indeed the person who paid the money, this would be an excessive in-kind campaign contribution if it can be shown that it was motivated to help the campaign as opposed to being motivated for personal reasons such as to help Trump with his marriage.

KEITH: But he cautions there is much that is still not known.

HASEN: There are issues of fact and issues of law that are very uncertain at this point.

KEITH: And this is but one theory about why the "Access Hollywood" video may be relevant to investigators. Another - less than an hour after its release, WikiLeaks began publishing emails hacked from Hillary Clinton's campaign. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.