The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Donald Trump was directly involved in payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal that violated campaign regulations.
The Wall Street Journal found that Mr. Trump was involved in or briefed on nearly every step of the agreements. He directed deals in phone calls and meetings with his self-described fixer, Michael Cohen, and others. The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan has gathered evidence of Mr. Trump’s participation in the transactions.
The Journal notes that this is counter to “a two-year pattern of denials by Mr. Trump, his legal team and his advisers.”
Evidence of Trump’s involvement was turned up by federal prosecutors in Manhattan pursing the case against Michael Cohen. Cohen initially denied that Trump had any involvement in paying hush money to either Daniels or McDougal.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan came to believe otherwise. In August, they outlined Mr. Trump’s role—without specifically naming him—in a roughly 80-page draft federal indictment they had been preparing to file against Mr. Cohen.
When Cohen reached his plea deal later in August, part of that agreement said that Cohen “coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments.” One of those “one or more” was Trump. Prosecutors had apparently collected the information to demonstrate this before Cohen became a cooperating witness.
It’s not clear that the revelations will lead to an indictment of Trump for breaking election rules, even if SDNY prosecutors believe they are allowed to issue such an indictment. That’s because Trump can always try the same path of earlier politicians—he can claim he wasn’t trying to hide the payments from the FEC. He was trying to hide them from Melania.
The Wall Street Journal article details Trump’s actions in handling the payments, particularly in how he communicated not just with Cohen, but with National Enquirer publisher David Pecker to entice McDougal with an offer to publisher her story, then get her to sign a contract that allowed the story to be buried. The publication then details Trump’s actions regarding Stormy Daniels and the company that Cohen set up to pay off both Daniels and pass money through Pecker to McDougal.
Trump’s involvement is everywhere. Making calls, suggesting how the women should be handled, arranging payments. It was already clear that his claims to not be aware of the payments was a lie, but the WSJ shows just how large those lies really were.
Mr. Pecker visited Trump Tower twice during the presidential transition. When he raised Mr. Cohen’s request [for reimbursement] during a meeting in the first week of December 2016, Mr. Trump demurred, saying Mr. Cohen had plenty of money. During Mr. Pecker’s second visit, in January 2017, Mr. Trump thanked him for suppressing the McDougal story.
The potential charges related to Trump’s payoffs include charges that he violated campaign finance law—charges to which Michael Cohen has already pleaded guilty.
Standing before Judge William H. Pauley III, Cohen admitted guilt on two criminal counts: willfully causing an unlawful corporate contribution and making an excessive campaign contribution.
The first count dealt with Cohen’s negotiation of an agreement with an unnamed company — the context of the government’s delineation of charges makes clear that it’s American Media Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer — to pay former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000. That payment was aimed at preventing her from being able to share her story of a year-long affair with Trump with any other media outlet.
In 2008, when John Edwards was charged with making payoffs to conceal an affair, he faced similar charges. He argued that he wasn’t really trying to break campaign laws, but trying to keep the information away from his wife. That argument led to a deadlocked jury—but it didn’t keep Edwards from being indicted.
And since Cohen has already pleaded on these charges, it would seem infinitely harder for Trump to argue that he didn’t know he was in violation of campaign law. Especially with Cohen cooperating.