The audio recording between then-candidate Donald Trump and his personal lawyer Michael Cohen in September 2016 has sparked a mystery:

What are those two references to Charleston before they discuss buying a Playboy model's story?

CNN's airing of one of the tapes late Tuesday begins with what seems to be a separate phone conversation before Trump, then just a presidential candidate, begins talking to Cohen.

That's when the name Charleston pops up but with no context.

Trump says, "I think it's probably better to do the Charleston thing, just this time."

Before that mention of Charleston, Trump tells the person on the other end of the phone that "it's so false what they're saying, it's such (expletive)."

Afterward he says, "In two weeks, it's fine. I think right now it's better."

Later in the recording, Cohen says to Trump, "told you about Charleston," before moving on to other issues.

Several sources involved with Trump's South Carolina campaign from 2016 could not offer any clarifying information Wednesday, with some saying they didn't know what the Charleston mention was referring to and others saying they had signed non-disclosure agreements.

Cohen did not respond to questions about the conversation.

The Charleston reference could be about any of the other Charlestons around the country, including West Virginia, where Trump had held a rally with coal miners six months earlier.

But if it is about South Carolina, two possible contenders stand out:

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  • Fundraiser
    • In mid-September, Trump's campaign decided to move a fundraiser for later that month from Charleston to the Charlotte area. North Carolina was more in play at the time versus Democrat Hillary Clinton.
  • Business
    • D B Pace Acquistion, a company owned by Trump, gained control of a shuttered North Charleston manufacturer in January 2016, purchasing the former Titan Atlas building and 6-acre property for more than $3.6 million at a foreclosure sale. Cohen was involved in a lawsuit filed against the company a few months later because leaks in the roof allegedly destroyed construction products.
    • In September 2016, Trump’s DB Pace Acquisition was also seeking an environmental liability agreement with the state. Cohen played a role in both the ongoing lawsuit, and the environmental waiver application.
    • In 2018, Trump’s company sold the Pace Street building to a company set up by West Ashley resident Jeremy Blackburn, for $4.1 million. Blackburn was manager of the failed redevelopment of the Charleston Naval Hospital — a project in which Donald Trump Jr. held a 10 percent stake.

Still, on the recording there is no clear explanation of what the Charleston reference is and the conversation proceeds.

In the rest of the recording Cohen and Trump reportedly discuss buying the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal's story detailing the alleged affair she had with Trump years earlier, long before he became a presidential candidate.

Trump has denied the relationship.

David Slade contributed to this report.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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