Keith Davidson, the attorney who negotiated hush-money payments in 2016 on behalf of two women who claimed to have engaged in extramarital relationships with President Trump, sat down for an interview for the latest episode of “The Investigation," a new ABC News podcast focused on the probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller. A transcript of Davidson's interview as it appears in the episode of the podcast follows here:
Interested in Russia Investigation?Add Russia Investigation as an interest to stay up to date on the latest Russia Investigation news, video, and analysis from ABC News.
ABC NEWS' CHRIS VLASTO: Welcome back to the investigation. I'm here with our chief national affairs correspondent Tom Llamas who just interviewed the former attorney for Stormy Daniels - Keith Davidson, which has already made a lot of headlines around the country. But actually Keith has decided to come back here for the podcast and the three of us are going to kind of dive a little deeper into what didn't air on TV and I think there was a lot of issues that you covered.
ABC NEWS' TOM LLAMAS: You know Chris I think what was interesting about this interview was that Keith sort of took us into the negotiations as much as he could because of attorney client privilege - of how the whole thing went down with Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels. And I think what the biggest headline out of this interview was the catalyst - why Michael Cohen eventually decided to pay Stormy Daniels and to negotiate with Keith Davidson and because as he’ll tell you they came to an agreement but Michael Cohen initially missed the first payment. I’ll let Keith take it from there.
DAVIDSON: Glad to be here guys. And that's exactly right. What I think has been missed about the story over the last year is that the catalyst for the payment and how it came to be. And you cannot talk about the Stormy Daniels settlement without talking about the Access Hollywood tape and really that was the catalyst.
LLAMAS: and what was happening like take me back. So Stormy essentially doesn't get paid. She's getting upset. You're getting upset.
LLAMAS: With the first payment?
DAVIDSON: Yes. I mean look there was a lengthy contract that was signed and executed. There was a funding deadline and the funding deadline was missed. So the contract was canceled. There was no deal and it was shortly after that contract was missed that the Access Hollywood tape aired and it was almost immediately after the Access Hollywood tape aired - the settlement came, came back on and then there was a second agreement that was signed and re-executed.
VLASTO: But let me play devil's advocate here just say if I'm Melania Trump and I see the "Access Hollywood" tape I'm already if I'm Donald Trump I'm already in the dog…
DAVIDSON: Melania is so much more beautiful than you. (LAUGHS)
VLASTO: No but it's. I'd be - The argument is whether he's trying to keep it private for personal reasons for Melania or for political reasons. So can’t he still make the explanation now that hey guys I wanted to pay it off and I got crazy to want to pay it off. I didn't want to get Melania more angry.
LLAMAS: I was protecting the family.
DAVIDSON: Well I think that's a natural argument and I think that's the argument that, that one would make right. That's the John Edwards defense. And now I think in retrospect and in the way that the Southern District of New York I believe looked at it - was that you know this affair if it happened there's no reason to think that it didn't - occurred in 2007. That Stormy Daniels gave an interview to InTouch magazine in 2011. So, even if what you're saying is true that Trump and his team knew about this in certainly 2007, 2011 and 12 and 13 and 14 and 15 and 16 all those years they knew about it when he declared become president, they knew about it when he became the Republican nominee. And it wasn't until after the Access Hollywood tape aired that the case ultimately settled.
LLAMAS: So did you ever put two and two together or was this when the prosecutors from the Southern District put you in there and they grilled you for 15 hours and asked for 1500 documents. I mean did you put two and two together was when they started questioning you about the timeline and Access Hollywood that you were like OK wait a minute this may make sense?
DAVIDSON: Well sitting down with the Southern District for so long and the competence on that team cannot be understated. I mean they are extremely efficient, bright, targeted, focused, no nonsense. And it's a stressful event to sit down with any federal prosecutor and federal agents, you know, under the penalty of 28 USC 1001 and false statements to a federal officer. But it became clear to me as the hours went on that the anticipation of an ED- or John Edwards defense was clear and it was the Access Hollywood tape that provided the catalyst for settlement and sort of defeated that anticipated John Edwards defense.
VLASTO: So your argument is that before the Access Hollywood he would have had the John Edwards defense, but after Access Hollywood it becomes clear that it’s political?
DAVIDSON: I mean look nothing's ever really black and white you know especially in the law. But I think it became it's certainly of a vital piece of evidence in order to defeat that.
LLAMAS: Because you said this in our interview - the prosecutors and maybe you allege this as well the Trump campaign could have survived Access Hollywood they could not have survived Access Hollywood and sex with a porn star.
DAVIDSON: Well who knows. I mean we're now living in an upside down world. You know we're up is down and right is left and it's like…ghost busters…
LLAMAS: But the Access Hollywood tapes hit like a bomb. I mean I mean from Reince Priebus has been you know reported that Trump should get out of the race. I mean that that hit like a bomb.
VLASTO: Do you think though looking now that the Southern District is investigating, do you think this is an impeachable offense?
DAVIDSON: You know that's above my pay grade. You know impeachment is a political process. And I think just as a casual observer of the process and as it's going on the numbers just don't seem to add up.
LLAMAS: I don't want to end the whole can the president be indicted if he's a sitting president. But let me ask you a question Keith. After all the questions they asked you for those 15 hours do you think the president would be indicted if he wasn't in the White House?
DAVIDSON: Well I think all you have to do is look at Michael Cohen's plea agreement and indictment. I mean it's clear that they alleged that he was part of a criminal conspiracy to commit campaign finance laws. And by definition a conspiracy must involve more than one person. And so who else could it be?
VLASTO: But you know one person that's we're not talking enough about I think given the first interview that you've done on GMA and world news- is Karen McDougal. I mean you also did that deal right.
VLASTO: With AMI.
DAVIDSON: That's correct.
VLASTO: She seems to kind of float above it. I mean what's your perception on that? I mean this whole idea of catch and kill and David Pecker that's a big part of him trying to keep it quiet during the campaign. No?
DAVIDSON: I think so but I think if you're a prosecutor it's much more difficult. I mean it’s one step removed - that deal was not done with Cohen or with Trump. That deal was, really a personal services agreement between Karen McDougal and AMI.
VLASTO: But all those people got immunity right? I mean David Pecker, Dylan Howard. All those people got immunity right?
LLAMAS: Because they admitted that they were working with Michael Cohen, they would protect the president, they admitted this to prosecutors. And you had a very incredible moment which you mentioned to us in our interview where you decided to talk to David Pecker because your client Karen McDougal said he wasn't honoring the contract take us through that.
DAVIDSON: So there was there was a time where Karen believed that the AMI was not fulfilling terms of their contract. There were certain public appearances that were necessary, articles, magazine covers, and so forth.
LLAMAS: Because you had negotiated she would not tell about her affair if she sold her life story to AMI which AMI did pick up. But in return they also promised this publicity, they would put her out there in the magazines. Correct?
DAVIDSON: Correct. And so when she believed that AMI was not fulfilling the terms of that deal. She was upset and we scheduled a meeting with AMI. We went met with David Pecker and it was an incredible meeting. And there were even further promises that were made to her at that, that meeting. So the situation actually became worse, not better. And that was really a great source of frustration for everyone involved on our side.
LLAMAS: And when you when we know now what David Pecker allegedly admitted to with prosecutors in the Southern District, working with Cohen to protect the president there was a phrase he used something he's told Karen at that lunch that you said in our interview was that?
DAVIDSON: He said, “Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. I wanted to - Out of respect to you Karen. Get you here in New York. I want to look you in the eye and have a face to face meeting. I want to thank you very much and I want to thank you for your loyalty.”
VLASTO: What drove David Pecker to do all this?
DAVIDSON: You know, I don't know. I think you'd have to ask him. But it was pretty clear to me you know, both at the time and then even, you know, retrospectively looking back that AMI had already announced their endorsement of Donald Trump if you will. And I think that there's you know it's been well reported that there was a close personal relationship between David Pecker and Donald Trump.
LLAMAS: And Keith you sort of have a legal specialty if people don't know your background. You were familiar with catch and kill we use that phrase a lot. Now in the era of Trump. What is that for people who don't really understand it?
DAVIDSON: Well, catch and kill is nothing new. I mean catch and kill has been going on for 100 years and catch and kill is when a story is acquired and not run. And oftentimes you know throughout the decades it's been used as sort of maybe bartering. So if there is a negative story about a celebrity that's about to run, you know, oftentimes a publication or entity would not run the story in return for access. And I think that's you know clearly what was done here.
VLASTO: All right and now let's go to the man of the moment Michael Cohen.
VLASTO: I mean you've known Michael a long time right. What do you think of this whole situation overall when you see where he's at - that he's about to go to jail for three years? [00:09:41][13.0]
DAVIDSON: You know, I don’t - I don't wish something like that really on anyone or anyone's family. I think you know it's a very tough time for him obviously and for his family.
LLAMAS: How did you get to become close with Michael Cohen? Because you guys essentially you told me that our interview the first time he ever called you was back in 2011 when he threatened to crawl up an orifice in your body and ruin you essentially - those are your words not mine. So how do you go from there to flash forward doing an NDA with his hero, his boss, the guy he’s going to take a bullet for and then him confiding in you about his feelings about the president?
DAVIDSON: You know I thought about that a lot. And one of the things that, you know, I've thought about was when you deal with the subject matter is that we were dealing with - confidential matters. There's not too many people to speak with about it. And so because we had done this deal and spoken about confidential matters - I feel like you know some of the ordinary protections in human relationships sort of dissipated and there was a lot of confidences that were shared--
LLAMAS: and you guys were talking a lot right? You guys talking all the time?
DAVIDSON: Probably 100, 200 times. Yes.
LLAMAS: What do people, what-- don't know about Michael Cohen? The people that want to deal with him every day. He likes to talk right?
DAVIDSON: Oh he loves to talk. He loves to talk. Yeah. And he loved his association with Donald Trump and that was front and center as to who he was.
LLAMAS: It was a life identity?
DAVIDSON: Really was, really was and he embraced that and he embraced his role in Donald Trump's life as being Donald Trump's protector. And he never lacked an opportunity to remind you of that.
VLASTO: And when he, you mentioned in the TV interview about that he was despondent or sad that he was left behind that he wasn't going to be chief of staff or Attorney General. I mean how bad was it? How sad was he? He called you on the phone. I think you said he was crying or emotional?
DAVIDSON: Yeah. I think he was highly despondent - he wasn't crying. That I know of. But I recall the day vividly. It was after the election, but before the inauguration, it was shortly before Christmas and it was a weekend day and I was shopping for my kids at a department store. And the phone rang. I took the phone call and I remember it was a prolonged discussion. And he was very, very upset, very despondent just couldn't believe the fact that he was not going to Washington.
LLAMAS: And I know you've been dealing with this since the election. You've thought about this since the election. Do you think if Michael Cohen would have never paid, you think if they would just skip that second deadline and just said OK forget it Access Hollywood tape is hit. This thing's over. Do you think Michael Cohen would be going to prison, do you think his life would be this upside down? Was that the biggest mistake he ever made in his life?
DAVIDSON: From an outsider looking in it certainly looks like that. And I think it's fair to say that that that payment Stormy Daniels was the spark that lit the fire, which is now out of control. I mean it's a wildfire of historic proportions. And I think it's evident to me and I think most people that it was the Stormy Daniels payment that was the spark for this entire conflagration.
VLASTO: Oh for sure. And when you see - I know you parted from Stormy Daniels - Michael Avenatti took over. I mean what do you think when you see the two of them kind of making a business out of this?
LLAMAS: And I asked you Michael Avenatti was seen for a while there as a hero and you were being trashed repeatedly both on cable news and on social media.
DAVIDSON: Well look as you know I'm a lawyer. I respect the process. I was in the middle of cooperating with the Southern District. They asked me to refrain from making any public comment and I felt that it was my duty, not just as a lawyer, but my duty as an American just to let the wheels of justice progress. So it wasn't easy to sit back and take some jabs and I caught a lot of black eyes.
VLASTO: You know the other person actually I do have to ask you this because it’s - I don't think you discussed in the interview too there was a third client that you had or it came up and or did you do it? About Elliott Broidy and there was this whole suggestion that this woman was impregnated and people were making the suggestion that it could have been Donald Trump’s? What do you know about that?
LLAMAS: Elliott Broidy. Big Republican fundraiser
VLASTO: Big Republican fundraiser. But when you watched all that going on. What's the -what's the record on that? Set the record straight on that. [00:14:37][30.9]
DAVIDSON: Well what I can say is that you know there's documents that have been filed there's an ongoing litigation. And it's clear that in those publicly filed documents that folks should not believe everything they read and the rumor mill of you know who the father is. You know I think it's pretty clear in the filings and to everyone who's involved in that case. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
LLAMAS: And I asked you this during the interview for our folks that are listening. How is it Keith because it is sort of so coincidental if you will or it's not - uou represent Stormy Daniels represent Karen McDougal, you get involved in this Elliott Broidy saga as well? How do these clients find you? I mean do they Google you? I mean what type of connections do you have? Because people may look at this and say you and Michael Cohen did all these deals together. It's a little strange.
DAVIDSON: You know I don't think so. It's a small universe of folks that do this kind of work. I receive a lot of referrals from other attorneys. And you know it's
LLAMAS: Because you've carved out a niche business in Hollywood and really around the country when it comes to these types of situations
DAVIDSON: Well, they seem to find me, these cases. And you know sometimes you handle one or two cases and you develop sort of an expertise in that area and whatever it is - insurance claims or I just happened to be the NDA guy.
VLASTO: Well, I expected to see your name pop up in the Jeff Bezos scandal. But it didn't.
LLAMAS: But he took a reverse he decided not to play the catch and kill game right? In that situation the Jeff Bezos and Amazon with AMI?
LLAMAS: He put it all out there.
DAVIDSON: And I think that's a - maybe a new trend. And look I think you know what's also interesting from a societal effect of the last year - is the effect that the hashtag Me Too movement has had on these events - the Karen McDougal, Stormy Daniels matter and really all NDAs you know you wonder if NDAs are - there's legislation, pending legislation all over the country to make NDAs unlawful.
LLAMAS: One more point because a lot of people have talked about this, you know people say Donald Trump was so rich at the time, so much money. Stormy Daniels settled for a hundred thirty thousand dollars. She later decided she, according to our sources, wanted more. Her attorney Michael Avenatti has said that you know he wanted the truth to come out. She has said that as well. She's since written a book and went on "60 Minutes." Do you think if that number was higher if it was maybe $500,000, a million dollars, she would have just gone away we would have never heard from her again?
DAVIDSON: You know, who knows? Who knows? But I can tell you that you know for folks that say that the hundred thirty thousand dollars wasn't enough I think you need to look at that moment in time. He wasn't President of the United States.
VLASTO: And the odds are he wasn't going to be president of the United States.
LLAMAS: that was the conventional wisdom.
DAVIDSON: Right. I mean I think even on election night if we can all just bring ourselves back there. I think you know the majority of America was shocked that it occurred. So you know you wonder how much that case have been worth a day after the election or two days after the election if he didn't win. It probably would have been worth nothing.
LLAMAS: Add that number to be clear you did not come up with that number?
DAVIDSON: I did not come up with that number.
DAVIDSON: And if I came up with that number it would have been a hell of a lot higher
LLAMAS: and the Trump side didn't come up with that number.
DAVIDSON: And the Trump side did not come up that number.
LLAMAS: I asked you what did you think you think if this never would have occurred if Trump would have still won the election if Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, if that information actually had come out? Would he still be president? What did you what did you say?
DAVIDSON: You know who knows. I can tell you what, I think it's clear to everyone now that they thought that he would not have become President because they paid it. They had the opportunity to purchase the story in 2011 all the way through 2016. We actually had a written contract, the first contract and they failed to fund it.
LLAMAS: So it has kept you up at night?
DAVIDSON: It's kept me up many nights. Yes.
LLAMAS: Chris you know politics I mean do you think I mean Access Hollywood plus you know the Christian right was so behind President Trump? If it was the Access Hollywood a Playboy playmate and a porn star if all of that would have come out? Do you think it would've made a difference? I mean I covered the campaign. I don't know.
VLASTO: I mean you know and I think with Donald Trump he defies all the normal rules. I mean he should have been. John McCain's story could have removed him from the election. So who knows? (OVERTALK) He seems to have Teflon, he seems to have Teflon (OVERTALK) on a lot of issues that normal presidents, would have read --
VLASTO: -- the candidates would have resigned and gone home. So he's remarkable that way.
DAVIDSON: I think at the time too during the campaign there were 16 or so women that came forward and said that they were somehow mistreated. So would this have been the straw that broke the camel's back or not? Or you know who knows. I think it's maybe one of the benefits of having a crisis every single day is that you forget the crisis yesterday.
VLASTO: Well that's right.
LLAMAS: Have any other women contacted you with allegations against the president and are you currently representing anyone?
DAVIDSON: The answer is no to both questions.
"The Investigation" is a podcast series offering an in-depth look at special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, analyzing the potential fallout and political consequences. Hosted by ABC News correspondent Kyra Phillips and the ABC News investigative team, led by Senior Executive Producer Chris Vlasto. "The Investigation" is available for free on Apple Podcasts (via iPhone), Google Podcasts (via Android), Spotify (via smartphone and desktop), Stitcher (via smartphone and desktop), TuneIn (via smartphone and desktop), the ABC News app (via your smartphone) or your favorite podcast player.