Prosecutors connect Trump to illegal payments during the campaign

For the first time, federal prosecutors in New York on Friday said that President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate MORE directed his former lawyer Michael Cohen to make two illegal payments during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York connected Trump to the illegal payments in the latest filing in the case involving his longtime lawyer and fixer.

The document states that Cohen "acted in coordination with and at the direction of" Trump before the election in steering payments to silence Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, two women claiming they had affairs with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied the affairs.

The latest filing does not explicitly name Trump, but makes numerous references to an "Individual-1" who it states in January 2017 "had become the President of the United States" and for whom Cohen worked as a personal attorney.

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Prosecutors argue that Cohen made the payments for the rights to Daniels and McDougal's stories before the election in order to "suppress the stories and thereby prevent them from influencing the election."

Cohen had previously implicated Trump regarding the payments when he pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance violations, among other counts involving bank and tax fraud. But the filing Friday is the first time prosecutors have also tied Trump to the illegal payments.

American Media Inc. (AMI), which runs the National Enquirer, had purchased the rights to the story of McDougal, a former Playboy model, for $150,000 in August 2016 at Cohen’s "urging" and with his promise that the company "would be reimbursed," prosecutors said in the filing.

AMI never published McDougal's claims and reportedly purchased the story as part of what is known as a "catch and kill." Prosecutors say the payment to the woman was part of an effort "to prevent the story from influencing the election."

McDougal is suing the National Enquirer over its ownership of the story of her alleged affair and is suing Cohen and Trump for defamation for denying her allegations.

The payment to Daniels, an adult-film star, came directly from Cohen, although he "falsely indicated that the purpose of the wire was to pay a 'retainer,' " prosecutors say.

Cohen then sought reimbursement from the campaign after the election for the $130,000 payment he made, which was granted.

This payment violates campaign finance law prohibitions against donations over $2,700 in a general election.

Daniels is also suing Trump regarding the 2016 nondisclosure agreement about her alleged affair with Trump.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the Cohen filing on Friday, arguing it revealed "nothing of value that wasn't already known."

"Mr. Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr. Cohen is no hero,” she added in a statement.

Trump also pushed back on the filing Friday evening, tweeting shortly after prosecutors filed the Cohen document to claim that it "totally clears the President. Thank you!"

George Conway, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayWaPost media columnist calls for banning Kellyanne Conway from the news ‘Saturday Night Live’ ponders life if Trump had never been elected with Baldwin, Stiller and De Niro George Conway rips Trump's defense of Daniels, McDougal payments MORE and a prominent conservative lawyer, knocked Trump's tweet.

"Except for that little part where the US Attorney’s Office says that you directed and coordinated with Cohen to commit two felonies," Conway wrote in response to Trump. "Other than that, totally scot-free."

Several other legal pundits have argued that Friday's filing directly implicates Trump with felony charges.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti tweeted that the document suggests that prosecutors "have some level of corroborating evidence that convinces them by 'a preponderance of the evidence' that Trump directed Cohen to commit those crimes."

Former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal tweeted that "this is the 1st time fed prosecutors have essentially said Trump committed a felony, by directing Cohen to commit campaign finance" violations.