Wednesday 21 August 2019

Trump spoke to aides in scramble to pay porn star ‘hush money’

Documents released by judge on former lawyer's communications

US President Donald Trump. Photo: Nicholas Kamm / AFP
US President Donald Trump. Photo: Nicholas Kamm / AFP

Jonathan Stempel

Documents released by a judge's order yesterday detailed a flurry of communications involving Donald Trump, his campaign team and former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to engineer hush-money payments to a porn actress who said she had a sexual encounter with the president shortly before the 2016 election.

US District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan on Wednesday had ordered that the material, used by prosecutors to obtain a 2018 search warrant for Cohen's home and office, be unsealed yesterday.

The judge found there was no reason to keep the documents secret after prosecutors told him their investigation into the payments had ended.

Cohen (52) pleaded guilty in August 2018 to violating campaign finance law by directing payments of $130,000 (€115,700) to adult film star Stormy Daniels and $150,000 (€133,500) to 'Playboy' model Karen McDougal to avert a scandal shortly before the 2016 presidential election.

Both women have said they had sexual encounters with Mr Trump more than a decade ago and that the money was meant to buy their silence. Mr Trump has denied the encounters and in 2018 told reporters he knew nothing about a payment to Ms Daniels.

The search warrant application described a phone call on October 8, 2016, about a month before the election, involving Mr Trump, Cohen and Hope Hicks, then the press secretary for Mr Trump's presidential campaign, which prosecutors believed was to discuss paying to squash public reports of an affair between Mr Trump and Ms Daniels.

Involved in calls: Hope Hicks was press secretary for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo
Involved in calls: Hope Hicks was press secretary for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

A few minutes after that call, Cohen called David Pecker, the president of American Media Inc (AMI) who was close to Mr Trump, and then received a call from another employee at AMI, which published the 'National Enquirer' newspaper. A short time later, Cohen called Ms Hicks back for about two minutes. Calls between the Trump campaign, AMI and Cohen continued through the evening.

Prosecutors said these calls were to discuss getting a payment to Keith Davidson, then an attorney for Ms Daniels.

On October 17, 2016, Cohen was involved in calls and texts as he feared the attempted settlement agreement might fall apart, according to the warrant application.

The documents indicated that Dylan Howard, chief content officer at AMI, believed Ms Daniels might be trying to sell her story after all.

‘Paid for her silence’: Adult film star Stormy Daniels was paid $130,000. Photo: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
‘Paid for her silence’: Adult film star Stormy Daniels was paid $130,000. Photo: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

"I'm told they're going with 'Daily Mail'," Mr Howard wrote in a text to Cohen late that afternoon. "Are you aware?" The pair quickly got on the phone. Cohen tried to call Mr Trump but appears to have been unsuccessful.

The negotiations continued with Cohen communicating multiple times on October 26 with Ms Daniels's lawyer and the two AMI executives.

The following morning, Cohen called Mr Trump and spoke with him for about three minutes, and then soon after made a second call for about 90 seconds to Mr Trump, the documents showed. Less than 30 minutes later, Cohen sent emails to a person who had set up the limited liability companies through which the payment funds were handled, asking he be sent "the filing receipt" as soon as possible.

After meeting with a bank representative from First Republic Bank at Trump Tower that day, Cohen transferred $131,000 out of a home equity line of credit that Cohen had at First Republic, which prosecutors said was used to pay Ms Daniels.

Cohen, who was once Mr Trump's self-described "fixer", began serving a three-year prison sentence in May for his campaign finance violations and other crimes, including making false statements to a bank and tax evasion.

Judge Pauley had allowed the hush-money documents to remain secret because an investigation involving the payments was still in progress.

Irish Independent

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