FEDS: CO­HEN AR­RANGED IL­LE­GAL PAY­MENTS AT ‘DI­REC­TION OF’ TRUMP

Busi­ness deal­ings in Chicago among fac­tors laid out by pros­e­cu­tors in seek­ing 4-year sen­tence for prez’s ex-lawyer

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY CHAD DAY, ERIC TUCKER AND JIM MUS­TIAN

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 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.

Among the fac­tors laid out by pros­e­cu­tors in seek­ing a prison term of about four years for Co­hen, they high­lighted Co­hen’s fail­ure to dis­close to the In­ter­nal Revenue Ser­vice more than $2.4 mil­lion he earned from 22 taxi medal­lions he op­er­ated in Chicago be­tween 2012 and 2016. The medal­lions are man­aged by Chicago Medal­lion Man­age­ment, a com­pany owned by the fam­ily of Se­myon Sh­tayner and his wife Yasya, Ukrainian im­mi­grants who live in Trump prop­er­ties in New York City and Florida.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clif­ford, 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.

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 $150,000 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., con­tacted Co­hen about the story. Af­ter Co­hen promised the com­pany would be re­im­bursed, the En­quirer paid McDougal $150,000, 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.

AP

Michael Co­hen, Pres­i­dent Trump’s for­mer lawyer.

Spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump

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