Michael Cohen Implicates Trump Family Business in Hush Money Payment

Testifying before Congress on Wednesday, Michael D. Cohen implicated President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr., and the chief financial officer of his company, Allen Weisselberg, in the arrangement of a hush money payment before the 2016 election, and also suggested that Mr. Trump remained keenly interested in the arrangement even after moving into the White House.

Mr. Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty last summer to campaign finance crimes relating to payments made to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump’s involvement in the arrangements was indicated by Mr. Cohen at the time, but the other participants were identified by prosecutors only as “Executive-1,” “Executive-2” or “another employee at the company.”

At the hearing on Capitol Hill, Mr. Cohen produced two checks that he said were among 11 payments to reimburse him for the $130,000 he had paid with his own money to one of those women, the pornographic film actress Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels.

One check, dated March 17, 2017, bore the signatures of Donald Jr. and Mr. Weisselberg. The other, dated Aug. 1, 2017, had the president’s own signature.

Last August, in describing the broad contours of Mr. Cohen’s reimbursement, federal prosecutors said the unnamed executives had approved “sham invoices” from Mr. Cohen.

In his testimony, Mr. Cohen also described how Mr. Trump remained actively engaged in the arrangements even after taking office. Mr. Cohen said the president contacted him in February last year after The Wall Street Journal broke news of the payment to Ms. Daniels. Mr. Cohen said that he, Mr. Trump and Mr. Weisselberg discussed coordinating a statement that rebutted the newspaper’s reporting and asserted that Mr. Cohen had paid Ms. Daniels out of his own pocket.

Mr. Cohen produced two checks he said were part of his reimbursement for the payout. The checks, written after Mr. Trump took office, bear the signatures of the president, Donald Jr. and Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer.CreditLanny Davis, via Associated Press

He also described receiving a phone call from Mr. Trump during an interview with a reporter in which, Mr. Cohen said, the president directed him to tell the reporter that Mr. Trump had no knowledge of his dealings with Ms. Daniels.

“He knew about everything,” Mr. Cohen said of Mr. Trump. “Everything had to go through Mr. Trump and had to be approved by Mr. Trump.”

Mr. Cohen suggested that the president and Mr. Weisselberg were mindful of the political and legal tightrope they were walking. After meeting with Mr. Trump about the payments, Mr. Cohen said, he and Mr. Weisselberg debated the best way to pay Ms. Daniels in the days leading up to the 2016 election — and the best way to disguise the repayment to Mr. Cohen.

“I had asked Allen to use his money — I didn’t want to use mine — and he said he couldn’t,” Mr. Cohen testified. “He asked me if I knew anybody who wanted to have a party at one of his clubs,” he said, suggesting that the event could have provided an alternate justification for forwarding the funds. “I didn’t.”

Instead, according to prosecutors, Mr. Cohen filed fake legal bills to the Trump Organization in 2017, taking in a total $420,000 from those claims.

Mr. Weisselberg provided information to federal prosecutors last summer as they built their case against Mr. Cohen. He testified before a grand jury and was granted immunity from prosecution related to that testimony, but did not receive blanket immunity.

A lawyer for Mr. Weisselberg declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier on Wednesday, before Mr. Cohen’s testimony, the president posted on Twitter that Mr. Cohen had done “bad things unrelated to Trump” and that “he is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”

In a statement, the Trump campaign also impugned the credibility of Mr. Cohen, based on his pleading guilty last year to lying to Congress.

Asked why Ms. Daniels was paid the specific sum of $130,000, Mr. Cohen said it was “a number” that she wanted. Without the payment, he said, he had worried that her “story was going to go to T.V.”

Mr. Cohen had long been aware of Ms. Daniels and the alleged affair. In 2011, he made legal threats as she promised to detail her alleged relationship with Mr. Trump to a gossip website, TheDirty.com.

“It was down to the wire,” Mr. Cohen told lawmakers on Wednesday, explaining why he initially paid Ms. Daniels out of his own pocket.

The money trail that Mr. Cohen discussed on Wednesday related mostly to Ms. Daniels — though she was just one of two women who received hush money in 2016.

The other woman, Karen McDougal, received $125,000 from American Media Inc., the publisher of The National Enquirer. Mr. Cohen said on Wednesday that Mr. Trump had known she was shopping her story around in summer 2016, and that he had intended to reimburse the tabloid company for what it paid to silence her.

“He was supposed to pay,” Mr. Cohen said of the president. “He was supposed to pay $125,000 for the life story of Karen McDougal. For whatever reason, he elected not to pay it. David Pecker was very angry,” he said, referring to A.M.I.’s chief executive.

Prosecutors said last summer that Mr. Cohen had promised to reimburse the company for the money paid to Ms. McDougal, a former Playboy model. In October 2016, they said, Mr. Pecker instructed Mr. Cohen to “tear up” the document relating to Ms. McDougal’s contract. He did not, and the document was among those seized in a raid of his office last spring, according to prosecutors.

Source: NYT

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