President Donald Trump has responded furiously to reports that his former lawyer had recorded their conversation about payments to a woman over an alleged affair, describing the tape as “totally unheard of and perhaps illegal.”
Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s personal lawyer for a decade, is being investigated by federal prosecutors in New York for possible bank and tax fraud.
"Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) – almost unheard of," Mr Trump tweeted, in an apparent reference to an FBI raid on Mr Cohen’s office in April.
"Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client – totally unheard of & perhaps illegal. The good news is that your favorite President did nothing wrong!"
On Friday it emerged that Mr Cohen recorded a conversation with Mr Trump two months before the 2016 election, in which they discussed buying the rights to a story by a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Mr Trump.
Karen McDougal has said she began a nearly year-long affair with Mr Trump in 2006, shortly after his wife, Melania, gave birth to their son Barron.
She sold her story for $150,000 (£114,000) in August 2016 but it was never published by the National Enquirer, a practice known as "catch and kill" to prevent a potentially damaging story from becoming public.
David Pecker, the chairman of parent company American Media Inc (AMI), is a friend of Mr Trump’s.
Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump’s lawyer, confirmed the authenticity of the tape and said the discussion of payment did not mean Ms McDougal’s claim of an affair was true.
He said the proposed payment was a personal matter and not subject to campaign finance law, adding that it was simply an attempt to resolve false allegations that were "personally damaging" to Mr Trump.
Mr Giuliani said the money was ultimately not paid.
But the revelation of the conversation proves that previous assertions by the Trump campaign that they were unaware of any discussion of a payment were false.
Mr Cohen said last year he would "take a bullet" for Mr Trump. But he told ABC News in an interview broadcast this month that he now puts "family and country first" and won’t let anyone paint him as "a villain of this story."
It came at the end of a torrid week for the president, who returned to Washington to a storm of criticism after his summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, when he raised doubts about US intelligence conclusions of Russian election interference.
On Tuesday he claimed he had said "would" but had meant to say "wouldn’t" when discussing Russian responsibility.
There was further verbal jousting when a White House pool reporter asked if Mr Trump believed Russia was still meddling in US democracy.
"Thank you very much, no," he said. The reporter asked again, and Mr Trump said "no" again.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary, said later that Mr Trump was actually saying “no” to answering any questions.
It later emerged that Mr Trump had invited Mr Putin to the White House in the autumn – an invitation which appeared to shock his director of national intelligence, Dan Coats.
"That’s going to be special," he said, prompting laughter from the audience.