Sunday 20 January 2019

FBI seeks records over Trump 'affair' claims

Adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels. Photo: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz. Photo: Reuters
Adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels. Photo: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz. Photo: Reuters

Ashley Parker

Federal prosecutors investigating US President Donald Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen are seeking records related to two women who received payments in 2016 after alleging affairs with Mr Trump years before - adult-film star Stormy Daniels and ex-'Playboy' model Karen McDougal - according to two people familiar with the matter.

The interest in Ms Daniels and Ms McDougal indicates that federal investigators are trying to determine whether there was a broader pattern or strategy among Mr Trump's associates to buy the silence of women whose accounts could have harmed his electoral chances, and whether any crimes were committed in doing so, one of those people said.

Karen McDougal
Karen McDougal

Investigators are also seeking all communications about Ms Daniels and Ms McDougal among Mr Cohen, David Pecker - a friend of Mr Trump and the chief executive of American Media Inc, which publishes the 'National Enquirer' - and Dylan Howard, the chief content officer for American Media and a reporter there.

Ms Daniels is co-operating with the federal prosecutors, according to a source who is familiar with the ongoing investigation.

Her co-operation was first reported by NBC News.

The high stakes of the case were underscored by the involvement of the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s attorney
Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s attorney

He personally approved the move to seek a search warrant for Mr Cohen's records, leading to the raids on Monday on Mr Cohen's home and office, according to two people who have some knowledge of the investigation.

The raids infuriated Mr Trump, who was left "stunned" and "livid" by the prosecutors' aggressive move on Monday, according to an outside adviser who is in frequent touch with the White House.

Mr Trump privately continued to gripe on Tuesday about Mr Rosenstein, who also oversees special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 campaign, according to people who are familiar with the situation.

Many in the president's orbit think that Mr Rosenstein's position is currently the most endangered if the president should decide to take action to try to halt the probe, the people said.

Mr Cohen, Mr Trump's longtime attorney, is under federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations, as 'The Washington Post' reported on Monday.

'The New York Times' first reported prosecutors' interest in Ms McDougal.

The former Playmate has said that she had a 10-month relationship with Mr Trump, beginning in 2006.

She said that she then sold her story to American Media for $150,000 (€121,000) about three months before the 2016 election.

No story about Ms McDougal ever appeared in the 'National Enquirer', a tabloid practice sometimes referred to as "catch and kill".

American Media spokesman Jon Hammond did not respond to questions about whether the company had been contacted by federal investigators.

"American Media Inc has, and will continue to, comply with any and all requests that do not jeopardise or violate its protected sources or materials pursuant to our First Amendment rights," Mr Hammond said.

Ms McDougal's attorney, Peter Stris, declined to comment on the Cohen investigation.

The search warrants served on Monday on Mr Cohen's Rockefeller Centre office and home sought his personal financial information and client communications, including records related to Ms Daniels.

She was paid $130,000 (€105,000) by the Trump lawyer just days before the 2016 election, in what she has described as an effort to buy her silence.

On April 5, Mr Trump said that he didn't know that his personal attorney paid adult-film star Ms Daniels the $130,000 days before the presidential election.

The raids, which also swept up communications between Mr Cohen and Mr Trump, left the White House scrambling to contain yet another crisis in an administration that has been rife with them.

Some White House allies think this one, like many of the administration's pockets of turbulence, was brought on by Mr Trump himself - specifically by comments that he made last week when he was aboard Air Force One, and when he claimed he had no knowledge of the payment Mr Cohen made to Ms Daniels, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

"He shot himself in the foot by saying he didn't know anything about the payment," one of the people said.

Several lawyers have noted that public statements from Mr Cohen and Mr Trump that the president was unaware of the payment may have significantly aided federal prosecutors' legal arguments to justify searching the lawyer's office, home and hotel room.

If both the lawyer and the client insist that Mr Trump had no idea that Mr Cohen had made the payment, they cannot then assert that those activities were protected by attorney-client privilege, legal experts have said.

"At that point, anything to do with that entire incident is, I would argue, not attorney-client privilege," said Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who practices law in Chicago.

"If I were a prosecutor hearing both the lawyer and the client say the client had no awareness whatsoever of that, I would now feel very confident going to a judge to seek that material."

Irish Independent

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