Trump di­rected il­le­gal pay­ments dur­ing cam­paign


NEW YORK — Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors said Fri­day that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump di­rected il­le­gal pay­ments to ward off a po­ten­tial sex scan­dal that threat­ened his chances of win­ning the White House in 2016, putting the weight of the Jus­tice Depart­ment be­hind ac­cu­sa­tions pre­vi­ously made by his for­mer lawyer.

The lawyer, Michael Co­hen, had said that as the elec­tion neared, Trump di­rected pay­ments to two women who claimed they had af­fairs with Trump. But in a new mem­o­ran­dum ar­gu­ing for a prison term for Co­hen, pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan said he “acted in co­or­di­na­tion and at the di­rec­tion of” an un­named in­di­vid­ual, clearly re­fer­ring to Trump.

In an­other fil­ing, pros­e­cu­tors for the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sia’s 2016 elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence said an un­named Rus­sian of­fered Co­hen “gov­ern­ment level” syn­ergy be­tween Rus­sia and Trump’s cam­paign in Novem­ber 2015. That was months ear­lier than other ap­proaches

de­tailed in in­dict­ments se­cured by pros­e­cu­tors.

And in a sep­a­rate case Fri­day, the spe­cial coun­sel ac­cused Paul Manafort, Trump’s cam­paign chair­man, of ly­ing about his con­tacts with an in­di­vid­ual they ac­cuse of ties to Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence, and about his in­ter­ac­tions with Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials af­ter he was in­dicted on crim­i­nal charges.

To­gether, the fil­ings laid bare the most di­rect ev­i­dence to date link­ing Trump to po­ten­tially crim­i­nal con­duct, and added to an al­ready sub­stan­tial case that Rus­sia was seek­ing to sway the 2016 elec­tion in his fa­vor.

Trump sought on Fri­day to dis­miss the news, wrongly claim­ing it “To­tally clears the Pres­i­dent. Thank you!”

The White House press sec­re­tary, Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, was less un­equiv­o­cal. “The gov­ern­ment’s fil­ings in Co­hen’s case tell us noth­ing of value that wasn’t al­ready known,” she said in a state­ment. “Mr. Co­hen has re­peat­edly lied and as the pros­e­cu­tion has pointed out to the court, Mr. Co­hen is no hero.”

She tried to dis­tance Trump from the ac­cu­sa­tions against Manafort, who was con­victed on fi­nan­cial fraud and con­spir­acy charges un­re­lated to his work for the Trump cam­paign. Trump has re­peat­edly de­fended Manafort as a “brave man” and dan­gled the pos­si­bil­ity of a par­don for his 10 felonies, likely to re­sult in a prison term of at least 10 years.

The rev­e­la­tions came in dual fil­ings by fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors for the South­ern Dis­trict of New York and by the spe­cial coun­sel, Robert Mueller. Their work has in­ter­sected be­cause both teams have charged Co­hen with crimes, and he had sought to co­op­er­ate with both.

The pros­e­cu­tors in New York mounted a scathing at­tack on Co­hen’s char­ac­ter. They re­jected his plea to avoid a prison term, say­ing that he had “re­peat­edly used his power and in­flu­ence for de­cep­tive ends.”

They ar­gued that he de­served a “sub­stan­tial” prison term. Un­der sen­tenc­ing guide­lines, that would most likely amount to about four years.

Co­hen, 52, is to be sen­tenced next week for a guilty plea to cam­paign fi­nance vi­o­la­tions and fi­nan­cial crimes, and a sec­ond plea to ly­ing to Congress about the ex­tent of Trump’s busi­ness deal­ings in Rus­sia.

Co­hen’s crimes marked “a pat­tern of de­cep­tion that per­me­ated his pro­fes­sional life,” the Man­hat­tan pros­e­cu­tors wrote, say­ing that he did not de­serve much le­niency in ex­change for co­op­er­at­ing with the gov­ern­ment.

In a lengthy memo to the judge, Wil­liam H. Pauley III, pros­e­cu­tors wrote that Co­hen was mo­ti­vated by “per­sonal greed.”

They em­pha­sized that Co­hen had im­pli­cated the pres­i­dent in his guilty plea. “Co­hen him­self has now ad­mit­ted, with re­spect to both pay­ments, he acted in co­or­di­na­tion with and at the di­rec­tion of In­di­vid­ual-1,” the pros­e­cu­tors wrote. “In­di­vid­ual-1” is how Trump is re­ferred to in the doc­u­ment.

Co­hen’s ac­tions “struck a blow to one of the core goals of the fed­eral cam­paign fi­nance laws: trans­parency,” the pros­e­cu­tors wrote, adding that he “sought to in­flu­ence the elec­tion from the shad­ows.”

The spe­cial coun­sel’s pros­e­cu­tors seemed to of­fer a more pos­i­tive view of Co­hen, say­ing he “has gone to sig­nif­i­cant lengths to as­sist the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

They said Co­hen had told them about a meet­ing that ap­peared to be the ear­li­est-known con­tact be­tween a Rus­sian of­fer­ing to help Trump’s cam­paign.

In Novem­ber 2015, as dis­cus­sions about a pos­si­ble Trump Tower Moscow pro­ject were gain­ing mo­men­tum, Co­hen told pros­e­cu­tors he was ap­proached by a Rus­sian claim­ing to be a “‘trusted per­son” in the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion, who of­fered “syn­ergy on a gov­ern­ment level” with the Trump cam­paign, they said.

The in­di­vid­ual, who was not named, pushed for a meet­ing be­tween Trump and Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of Rus­sia. Such a meet­ing, he said, could have a “‘phe­nom­e­nal’ im­pact ‘not only in po­lit­i­cal but in a busi­ness di­men­sion as well.’”

Co­hen told the spe­cial coun­sel’s team that he never fol­lowed up on the in­vi­ta­tion.

Co­hen has emerged as one of the big­gest threats to Trump’s pres­i­dency, pro­vid­ing the spe­cial coun­sel’s of­fice and pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan with ma­te­rial in dozens of hours of in­ter­views. He met seven times with pros­e­cu­tors for the spe­cial coun­sel, who are in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion and whether any­one tied to the Trump cam­paign con­spired with Moscow’s ef­forts to in­flu­ence the out­come of the vote.


Michael Co­hen, for­mer lawyer to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, leaves his apart­ment build­ing on New York’s Park Av­enue on Fri­day. In a Jus­tice Depart­ment memo re­leased Fri­day, Co­hen claims to have been or­dered shortly be­fore the 2016 elec­tion by then­can­di­date Don­ald Trump to make il­le­gal pay­ments to avoid a sex scan­dal.

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