Co­hen fol­lowed Trump’s or­ders

Prose­cu­tors: Il­le­gal hush money paid at pres­i­dent’s ’di­rec­tion’

The Star Malaysia - - World -

WASH­ING­TON: The Jus­tice Depart­ment says that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump di­rected il­le­gal pay­ments to buy the si­lence of two women whose claims of ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs threat­ened his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the first time prose­cu­tors have con­nected Trump to a fed­eral crime.

In a court fil­ing, prose­cu­tors said for­mer Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Co­hen (pic) ar­ranged the se­cret pay­ments at the height of the 2016 cam­paign “in co­or­di­na­tion with and at the di­rec­tion of ” Trump.

Co­hen has pre­vi­ously said Trump was in­volved in the hush-money scheme, but court doc­u­ments filed ahead of Co­hen’s sen­tenc­ing made clear prose­cu­tors be­lieve Co­hen’s claim.

The fil­ing stopped short of ac­cus­ing the pres­i­dent of com­mit­ting a crime. Whether a pres­i­dent can be pros­e­cuted while in of­fice re­mains a mat­ter of le­gal dis­pute.

But there’s no am­bi­gu­ity in Fri­day’s fil­ing that prose­cu­tors be­lieve Co­hen’s act was crim­i­nal and Trump was di­rectly in­volved, a re­mark­able dis­clo­sure with po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal and le­gal ram­i­fi­ca­tions for a pres­i­dent dogged by in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

The pay­ments are likely to be­come a tar­get for House Democrats gear­ing up to in­ves­ti­gate the pres­i­dent next year. It’s un­clear whether Trump faces le­gal jeop­ardy over his role.

Fed­eral law re­quires that any pay­ments made “for the pur­poses of in­flu­enc­ing” an elec­tion must be re­ported in cam­paign fi­nance dis­clo­sures.

The court fil­ing Fri­day makes clear that the pay­ments were made to ben­e­fit Trump po­lit­i­cally.

In Au­gust, Co­hen pleaded guilty to eight crim­i­nal charges, in­clud­ing cam­paign fi­nance vi­o­la­tions, and de­tailed an il­le­gal op­er­a­tion to sti­fle sex sto­ries and dis­trib­ute hush money to buy the si­lence of porn ac­tress Stormy Daniels and for­mer Play­boy model Karen McDou­gal, who had both claimed they had af­fairs with Trump. Trump has de­nied hav­ing an af­fair.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clif­ford, was paid US$130,000 (RM541,118) as part of a nondis­clo­sure agree­ment signed days be­fore the 2016 elec­tion and is cur­rently su­ing to dis­solve that con­tract.

Trump de­nied in April that he knew any­thing about Co­hen’s pay­ments to Daniels, though the ex­pla­na­tions from the pres­i­dent and his at­tor­ney, Rudy Gi­u­liani, have shifted mul­ti­ple times since then.

An­other at­tor­ney for the pres­i­dent, Jay Seku­low, did not im­me­di­ately re­turn a call for com­ment.

Af­ter Fri­day’s fil­ing, Trump tweeted: “To­tally clears the Pres­i­dent. Thank you!”

In Au­gust 2016, the Na­tional En­quirer’s par­ent com­pany reached a US$150,000 (RM624,366) deal to pay McDou­gal for her story of a 2006 af­fair, which it never pub­lished, a tabloid prac­tice known as catch and kill.

In 2015, the com­pany’s chair­man met with Co­hen and Trump and “of­fered help with neg­a­tive sto­ries” about Trump’s re­la­tion­ships with women by buy­ing the rights to the sto­ries, prose­cu­tors said.

Af­ter McDou­gal con­tacted the En­quirer, the chair­man of its par­ent com­pany, Amer­i­can Me­dia Inc, con- tacted Co­hen about the story.

Af­ter Co­hen promised the com­pany would be re­im­bursed, the En­quirer paid McDou­gal US$150,000 (RM624,366), ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

An au­dio record­ing re­leased by Co­hen in July ap­peared to cap­ture Trump and Co­hen dis­cussing buy­ing the rights to McDou­gal’s story from the En­quirer’s par­ent com­pany. Trump’s lawyers have said the pay­ments were never made.

Le­gal ex­perts have said the is­sue of whether Trump vi­o­lated the law would come down to whether Trump tried to in­flu­ence the elec­tion and whether he knew it was legally im­proper.

For­mer Sen John Ed­wards, who sought the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in 2008, was in­dicted in 2011 in con­nec­tion with pay­ments made on his be­half by a wealthy cam­paign donor to keep Ed­wards’ mis­tress quiet, which prose­cu­tors ar­gued amounted to il­le­gal cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions.

Ed­wards ar­gued the pay­ments were meant to keep his wife from learn­ing about the af­fair – not to pro­tect his cam­paign – and were there­fore not po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions.

A jury ac­quit­ted the North Carolina Demo­crat of one charge and dead­locked on the rest in 2012. The Jus­tice Depart­ment did not retry the case.

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