Pros­e­cu­tors: Hush-money paid at Trump’s ‘di­rec­tion’

Pres­i­dent con­nected to fed­eral crime for the first time

Albuquerque Journal - - NATION -

WASH­ING­TON — The Jus­tice Depart­ment said Fri­day 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 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 Trump 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.

Daniels was paid $130,000 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.

MARY ALTAFFER/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Michael Co­hen leaves fed­eral court in New York in Au­gust af­ter plead­ing guilty to charges in­clud­ing cam­paign fi­nance fraud.

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