Filing says President Trump directed illegal payments
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.
In a court filing, prosecutors said former Trump lawyer 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.
In addition, the filings reveal that Cohen told prosecutors he and Trump discussed a potential meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in 2015, shortly after Trump announced his candidacy for president.
In a footnote, Mueller’s team writes that Cohen conferred with Trump “about contacting the Russia government before reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a meeting,” though it never took place.
Prosecutors in Cohen’s case said that even though he cooperated in their investigation into the hush money payments to women he nonetheless deserved to spend time in prison.
“Cohen did provide information to law enforcement, including information that assisted the Special Counsel’s Office,” they said. “But Cohen’s description of those efforts is overstated in some respects and incomplete in others.”
In meetings with Mueller’s team, Cohen “provided information about his own contacts with Russian interests during the campaign and
discussions with others in the course of making those contacts,” the court documents said.
Cohen provided prosecutors with a “detailed account” of his involvement, along with the involvement of others, in efforts during the 2016 presidential campaign to complete a deal to build a Trump Tower Moscow, the documents said. He also provided information about attempts by Russian nationals to reach Trump’s campaign, they said.
However, in the crimes to which he pleaded guilty in August, he was motivated “by personal greed and repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends.”
Prosecutors said the court’s Probation Department estimated that federal sentencing guidelines call for Cohen to serve at least four years in prison. They said that “reflects Cohen’s extensive, deliberate and serious criminal conduct.”
Prosecutors say Cohen “already enjoyed a privileged life,” and that “his desire for even greater wealth and influence precipitated an extensive course of criminal conduct.”