Filing: Trump directed payment
Prosecutors say president, former lawyer Cohen arranged hush money for extramarital affairs
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.”