Fil­ing: Trump di­rected pay­ment

Pros­e­cu­tors say pres­i­dent, for­mer lawyer Co­hen ar­ranged hush money for ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs

The Mercury News - - Front Page - The Wash­ing­ton Post con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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. 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.

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.

Also in the fil­ing, Co­hen was in touch as far back as 2015 with a Rus­sian who of­fered “po­lit­i­cal syn­ergy” with the Trump elec­tion cam­paign.

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors said Fri­day that Co­hen de­serves a sub­stan­tial prison sen­tence de­spite his co­op­er­a­tion with in­ves­ti­ga­tors. He is to be sen­tenced next week, and may face sev­eral years in prison.

In hours of meet­ings with pros­e­cu­tors, Co­hen de­tailed his in­ti­mate in­volve­ment in an ar­ray of episodes, in­clud­ing some that di­rectly touch the pres­i­dent, that are at the cen­ter of in­ves­ti­ga­tions into cam­paign fi­nance vi­o­la­tions and po­ten­tial col­lu­sion be­tween the Trump cam­paign and the Krem­lin.

In one of the fil­ings, spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller de­tails how Co­hen spoke to a Rus­sian who “claimed to be a ‘trusted per­son’ in

the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion who could of­fer the cam­paign ‘po­lit­i­cal syn­ergy’ and ‘syn­ergy on a gov­ern­ment level.’ ”

The fil­ing says the meet­ing never hap­pened.

In an ad­di­tional fil­ing Fri­day, Mueller told a judge that Paul Manafort, Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man, told “mul­ti­ple dis­cernible lies” dur­ing in­ter­views with pros­e­cu­tors, in­clud­ing about his con­tacts with an em­ployee who is al­leged to have ties to Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence.

The al­le­ga­tions came in a new court fil­ing by the spe­cial coun­sel that pointed to some the ques­tions pros­e­cu­tors have been ask­ing a key wit­ness in their close­ly­held in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 cam­paign.

But they said that Manafort had told nu­mer­ous lies in five dif­fer­ent ar­eas, in­clud­ing about his con­tacts with Kon­stantin Kil­imnik, a Rus­sian em­ployee of Manafort’s po­lit­i­cal con­sult­ing firm who pros­e­cu­tors have said has Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence ties.

Co­hen also dis­cussed a Moscow real es­tate deal that could have net­ted Trump’s busi­ness hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars and con­ver­sa­tions with a Rus­sian in­ter­me­di­ary who pro­posed a meet­ing be­tween Trump and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin as well as of­fer­ing syn­ergy with the cam­paign, pros­e­cu­tors said.

Press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said in two state­ments that the Manafort fil­ing “says ab­so­lutely noth­ing about the Pres­i­dent” and the Co­hen fil­ings “tell us noth­ing of value that wasn’t al­ready known.”

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

Co­hen also told pros­e­cu­tors that 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, the fil­ings say.

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.”

Pros­e­cu­tors said the court’s Pro­ba­tion De­part­ment es­ti­mated that 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.”

Co­hen

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