Hear the tapes: DA's theory of Trump as the hush-money mastermind takes a hit in newly-released defense recordings

  • Defense tapes played in court Thursday have been posted to SoundCloud by Law360.

  • They are recordings of 2018 phone calls between the two lawyers who struck the 2016 hush-money deal.

  • They suggest an alternate reality to the DA's — where Trump is more victim than mastermind.

On the witness stand Thursday, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Keith Davidson, told jurors that it was easy to tell when Michael Cohen was recording their phone calls.

Cohen would suddenly sound "very structured."

"Ordinarily, he was sort of all over the place," Davidson testified of Donald Trump's fixer-turned-nemesis.

Davidson's surmise — that Cohen was likely taping him at the time — makes a pair of newly-released defense tapes all the more compelling and perplexing.

The tapes are from March of 2018. In them, the lawyer for then-President Trump chats with the former lawyer for a porn star.

They rehash old times: that hush-money deal they hammered out together days before the 2016 presidential election, a deal now at the center of Trump's ongoing criminal trial.

"Sometimes people get settler's remorse, you know?" Davidson says on one tape, in what he hesitatingly admitted on the stand Thursday was a reference to Daniels.

"And other times, people think that, hey, I need to resolve this case before a date certain, because this is when I have the most" Davidson says.

If Davidson really suspected he was being taped, that suspicion did not stop him from creating a record that, six years later, could damage not only his own credibility, but that of his porn star former client, and the prosecution.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has spent two weeks so far presenting a case that describes Trump as the mastermind of an election interference conspiracy.

Daniels, meanwhile, has portrayed herself as signing the hush-money deal in fear for her life.

She wanted to create a paper trail linking her name to Trump's, she says in last month's documentary, "so that he could not have me killed."

The tapes show the case, and Daniels, in a different light. They raise the question of whether Daniels' agent and Davidson, eager for cash, "leveraged" her story of a tryst with Trump in the crucial waning days of the 2016 election.

Trump's side is already pushing an "extortion" theory, using much of their cross-examination of Davidson Thursday to grill him on his past hush-money cases involving celebrities and their scandals.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he comes out and says, you know what, Stormy Daniels, she wanted this money more than you could ever imagine," Davidson says on another tape.

Davidson said Thursday that he was talking about an upcoming TV interview, and was describing what he believed would be said during that interview by Anthony Kotzev, the then-boyfriend of Daniels' agent, Gina Rodriguez.

"I remember hearing her on the phone," Davidson says on tape, referring to Rodriguez.

"Saying, 'You fucking Keith Davidson. You better settle this goddamn story because if he loses this election — and he is going to lose — if he loses this election, we all lose all fucking leverage. This case is worth zero."

Davidson was describing someone else's opinion, not necessarily his own. Still, as Davidson's angry words from 2018 played in the courtroom, they may have rang a bell that cannot be unrung in jurors' memories.

Ultimately, whether Trump was the victim or mastermind of the hush-money deal may prove immaterial.

Prosecutors say that throughout 2017, his first year in office, Trump falsified 34 business records, including nine checks to Cohen he signed personally.

The falsifications are felonies because they hid an unlawful conspiracy to influence the 2016 election, the District Attorney alleges.

Whether Trump was playing Daniels or she was playing him — or both, as is also possible — has no bearing on the lawfulness of the documents themselves, prosecutors have argued.

"This case is about a criminal conspiracy and a coverup," prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told jurors at the start of last week, in the opening assertion of his opening statements.

And while Colangelo told jurors that prosecutors will prove Trump "orchestrated" an election-influencing hush-money conspiracy, the charges do not require proof of who played whom.

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