NYT: Justice investigating alleged Comey leak of years-old classified info
Court filings show Trump, Cohen contacts amid hush money payments
President Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen was in contact with Trump multiple times as he arranged hush money payments to women alleging affairs with Trump ahead of the 2016 election, according to court documents unsealed on Thursday.
The previously redacted details of the federal probe on the payments indicate that investigators were aware of calls made between Cohen and Trump, as well as other Trump campaign officials, including then-campaign press secretary Hope Hicks.
Cohen pleaded guilty last year to committing campaign finance violations in relation to the payments to the women and earlier this year implicated Trump in the scheme. Trump, who initially denied knowledge of the payments, has maintained that he did not break any campaign finance laws and attacked Cohen as a liar.
The payments were made to adult-film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both alleged extramarital affairs with Trump. Trump has denied the affairs.
An April 8, 2018, affidavit highlights actions taken by Cohen after video was unearthed of Trump speaking with an "Access Hollywood" reporter about grabbing women by the genitals.
After that tape was released in October 2016, "Cohen exchanged a series of calls, text messages, and emails with Keith Davidson, who was then Clifford's attorney, David Pecker and Dylan Howard of American Media, Inc. ('AMI'), the publisher of the National Enquirer, Trump, and Hope Hicks, who was then press secretary for Trump's presidential campaign."
"Based on the timing of these calls, and the content of the text messages and emails, 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," the document states.
Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told The Hill in response to the unsealed documents that the president's team considers the case to be over.
"We stand by our statement issued yesterday," Sekulow said in an email. "Case closed."
Sekulow had said in the Wednesday statement, after it was revealed that the federal probe on the campaign finance violations had concluded, that they 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," he said.
Cohen and his attorney Lanny Davis blasted the statement by Sekulow, calling it dishonest and asserting that Trump directed the scheme.
"Jay Sekulow's statement is completely distorted and dishonest," said Cohen. "As I stated in my opening testimony, I and members of The Trump Organization were directed by Mr. Trump to handle the Stormy Daniels matter; including making the hush money payment. The conclusion of the investigation exonerating The Trump Organization's role should be of great concern to the American people and investigated by Congress and The Department of Justice."
Davis suggested Trump could still be charged with criminal wrongdoing as soon as he leaves office. Justice Department policy states that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
The filing states that Cohen, Trump and Hicks were all on one phone call on Oct. 8, 2016, that lasted about four minutes, and that Cohen and Hicks made a second call with just the two of them shortly afterward.
That revelation may conflict with what Hicks told the House Judiciary Committee in closed-door testimony last month, when she said she was never "present" when Trump discussed Daniels with Cohen.
"Were you ever present when Trump and Cohen discussed Stormy Daniels?" Hicks was asked by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).
"No, ma'am," Hicks replied.
The affidavit further alleges that Cohen was in contact with Pecker and Howard - the AMI executives - and then again with Hicks before calling Pecker another time.
"At 8:03 p.m., about three minutes after ending his call with Pecker, Cohen called Trump, and they spoke for nearly eight minutes," the document reads.
Cohen then made two more calls to Howard, who later texted Cohen, "Keith will do it. Let's reconvene tomorrow," apparently referring to Daniels's attorney at the time.
Howard texted both Cohen and Davidson the next morning, writing "Keith/Michael: connecting you both in regards to that business opportunity. Spoke to the client this AM and they're confirmed to proceed with the opportunity. Thanks, Dylan. Over to you two."
"Based on my participation in this investigation, I believe that when Howard wrote that the 'client' was 'confirmed to proceed with the opportunity,' he was referring to Clifford's agreement in principle to accept money from Cohen in exchange for her agreement not to discuss any prior affair with then-candidate Trump," the agent wrote.
Later that month, Howard, Cohen and Davidson reconnected in an attempt to finalize the agreement, according to the affidavit. The document states that the morning after Cohen spoke to Davidson, he also spoke with Trump for about five minutes.
The document also centered around a Nov. 4, 2016, article published in The Wall Street Journal that alleged the National Enquirer had buried a story on McDougal's allegations of an affair with Trump.
"It appears that Cohen spoke frequently to Davidson, Howard, Pecker and Hicks around the time of this article's publication - just days before Election Day - about the importance of preventing the McDougal and Clifford stories from gaining national traction," the filing reads.
At one point - shortly before the story's publication - Howard texted Cohen, "I think it'll be ok pal. I think it'll fade into the distance."
Cohen replied, "He's pissed," to which Howard wrote, "I'm pissed! You're pissed. Pecker is pissed. Keith is pissed. Not much we can do."
"Based on my involvement in this investigation, I believe Cohen was referring to Trump when he stated 'he's pissed,'" the agent wrote.
"The communication records set forth above make evident that Cohen communicated with members of the Trump campaign about his negotiation with Clifford's attorney and the need to preclude Clifford from making a statement that would have reflected negatively on the candidate in advance of the forthcoming election," the document states.
The documents released on Thursday include hundreds of pages of search warrants, warrant applications and supporting affidavits tied to raids on Cohen's hotel room, home and office in April 2018, in addition to those underlying searches of Cohen's email, cellphone location data and other electronic devices.
U.S. District Judge William Pauley III ordered prosecutors to file the documents in largely unredacted form on Thursday, writing that investigators had completed their investigation into the campaign finance violations tied to the hush money payments.
"The campaign finance violations discussed in the Materials are a matter of national importance. Now that the Government's investigation into those violations has concluded, it is time that every American has an opportunity to scrutinize the Materials," Pauley wrote.
Redacted versions of the documents were already released in March, but details on the campaign finance charges were restricted from the public versions.
The National Enquirer appeared to be a crucial part of the federal probe on the hush-money payments arranged by Cohen, as Pecker reportedly received an immunity deal in exchange for his cooperation.
The federal investigation also appears to have ended without any charges for more members of the Trump Organization.
Federal prosecutors confirmed the probe's end in a July 15 letter, also largely unsealed on Thursday, writing that they have "effectively concluded its investigations of (1) who besides Michael Cohen, was involved in and may be criminally liable for the two campaign finance violations to which Cohen pled guilty." The rest of that sentence remains redacted.
Also redacted were parts of a sentence in which the prosecutors wrote they were investigating "whether certain individuals ... made false statements, gave false testimony or otherwise obstructed justice in connection with this investigation." The end of that sentence is also redacted.
Cohen reported to federal prison earlier this year, where he is serving a three-year sentence. He testified before Congress ahead of his sentence, including during an open session in which he claimed that Trump directed him to make the payments to women alleging affairs.
Trump has denied that claim, and sought to attack Cohen's reputation instead. Cohen had also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about discussions to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 election as part of a deal to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller.
The revelations Thursday sent some ripples across Capitol Hill. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said the documents show "there was ample evidence to charge Donald Trump with the same criminal election law violations for which Michael Cohen pled guilty and is now serving time in prison."
Schiff also said it is of "paramount importance" to determine whether Attorney General William Barr had any involvement in bringing the campaign finance investigation in the Southern District of New York to a close.
"Barr testified that he believes it was within the President's power to stop any investigation into his own potential criminality if he felt an investigation was unfair," Schiff said. "Barr has demonstrated there are no lengths to which he will not go to protect the President, and I believe it is of paramount importance to determine if he had any involvement in the SDNY's investigation or sought to bring it to a close."
Updated: 4:09 p.m.