FBI Warrants Show Trump’s Close Involvement in Hush Money Effort
Federal search warrants released Thursday detail how Donald Trump and others scrambled in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign to arrange hush-money details to hide his alleged affairs and contain the fallout from related stories in the press.
The internal chaos consumed Trump, then-attorney Michael Cohen, campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks and even reached campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, according to the documents unsealed by a federal court in New York.
After the “Access Hollywood” tape came out in October 2016, there was a mad scramble inside the Trump campaign to contain the damage and suppress additional allegations of a sexual nature from reaching public view, according to the documents.
The documents reveal that one day after the tape came out, Cohen spoke on the phone with campaign spokeswoman Hicks and candidate Trump. Cohen, acting as a middleman, was involved in 10 telephone calls, some involving Trump and Hicks and others involving American Media Inc. executives David Pecker and Dylan Howard. AMI owns the National Enquirer tabloid.
Those conversations were apparently about adult film actress Stormy Daniels, also known as Stephanie Clifford, according to the documents. Cohen was also in contact with Daniels’ lawyer and they discussed the shell company that Cohen formed to eventually facilitate hush-money payments to Daniels. In previous court filings, AMI admitted that it was involved in a scheme to “catch and kill” news stories and gossip items that could damage Trump.
“I believe that at least some of these communications concerned the need to prevent Clifford from going public, particularly in the wake of the Access Hollywood story,” an FBI agent wrote in the court documents.
The scramble inside the Trump campaign described in the affidavit shows Cohen acting as the middleman. He was involved in eight telephone calls, some involving Trump and Hicks and others involving Pecker and Howard.
Cohen was next in contact with Davidson to pay Daniels. “Michael — if we are ever going to close this deal — in my opinion, it needs to be today.” Davidson wrote in a text message.
What the documents show
The documents reveal that Trump spoke with Cohen on the phone at least twice on the day that Cohen initiated a $131,000 wire transfer, money that would eventually make its way to Daniels.
The date was October 26, 2016, less than two weeks before the general election. Within 30 minutes of speaking to Trump, Cohen called up his bank, opened a new account, and transferred $131,000 to that new account. All the while, Cohen was also in communication with Daniels’ lawyer and giving him wiring instructions, according to the filings.
The timing is key because prosecutors have previously alleged that Cohen acted “in coordination with and at the direction” of Trump when he made the payments, which were illegal under federal campaign finance laws.
Following the last of the calls, Howard text Cohen confirming the deal. “Keith will do it. Let’s reconvene tomorrow.”
‘Matter of national importance’
The full search warrant and related materials for Cohen were released Thursday in a court filing in federal court in Manhattan.
A redacted version of the document was released in March — the new filing contains unredacted portions including those related to campaign finance.
They were made public after Judge William Pauley ruled that “the campaign finance violations discussed in the Materials are a matter of national importance.”
Pauley ordered those sections to be unredacted after prosecutors informed the judge that they had “concluded” their investigation into the Trump Organization relating to Cohen’s campaign finance violations.
“The weighty public ramifications of the conduct described in the campaign finance portions warrant disclosure,” Pauley said.
A number of news organizations, including CNN, had asked to unseal copies of the search warrants and affidavits relating to the April 2018 raids on Cohen’s hotel room, home and office.
In March, the judge ordered prosecutors to release the search warrants materials but allowed them to keep the sections relating to campaign finance under seal because of an ongoing investigation.
Of the nearly 900 pages relating to the search warrants that were released, there were redactions spanning over 20 pages under the heading “illegal campaign contribution scheme.” Some of the pages contain duplications.
Last year, Cohen pleaded guilty to nine federal charges including tax fraud, lying to Congress and two campaign finance violations for facilitating hush money payments to Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, two women who alleged affairs with Trump a decade ago. Trump has denied the affairs.
When Cohen pleaded guilty, he implicated Trump, saying he facilitated the payments “in coordination with and at the direction of” a presidential candidate. He later identified Trump by name in testimony before Congress. Prosecutors identified the person as “Individual 1” in court filings who they said had “become the President of the United States.” Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence.
Trump’s name has not been explicitly stated by prosecutors in any court filings related to Cohen’s campaign finance case.
The conclusion of federal prosecutors’ investigation of the Trump company’s role in the Cohen matter marks a significant victory for the President’s family business. An attorney for the company declined to comment.
A lawyer for Trump, Jay Sekulow, said: “We are pleased that the investigation surrounding these ridiculous campaign finance allegations is now closed. We have maintained from the outset that the President never engaged in any campaign finance violation.”
This story is breaking and will be updated.