Donald Trump was in the room when his then-lawyer, Michael Cohen discussed arranging hush money payments to two women with the publisher of the National Enquirer in 2015, NBC News and CNN reported on Thursday.
The revelation first announced last month by The Wall Street Journal and supported this week came after the Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., signed a non-prosecution deal with federal prosecutors where it agreed to paying off former Playboy model Karen McDougal in 2016 in order to secure Trump’s chances in the presidential election.
David Pecker, the publisher of the National Enquirer, is a longtime friend of Trump.
The payments to both McDougal and the adult film star Stormy Daniels, summing hundreds of thousands of dollarsturned a central point in prosecutors’ case against Cohen. The attorney was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday for a litany of convictions, plus violating campaign finance laws, tax evasion and lying to Congress, and stated he did so “in coordination with and at the direction” of the president.
The claims potentially implicate Trump in illegality, although it’s uncertain how the Justice Department would go if investigators found the president had, in fact, broken the law. The agency has usually discovered that a president cannot be indicted while in office.
The Journal first announced in November that Trump contributed in arranging those payments to the two women who stated that they had affairs with Trump in 2006 and 2007, after the then-real estate mogul married Melania. Trump has refuted that the affairs occured. He has moved far from Cohen and the payments, calling the one to Daniels a “simple private transaction” that was “wrongly” called a campaign contribution.
“I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called ‘advice of counsel,’ and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made,” Trump wrote in a tweet this week “That is why they get paid.”
As part of AMI’s deal, the company exposes that it made a $150,000 payment to McDougal “in concert” with the Trump campaign as part of a plan to kill negative stories about Trump. AMI also “admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,” prosecutors said in a statement this week.
McDougal had explained that the Enquirer bought her story as part of a “catch-and-kill” effort, meaning it got exclusive rights without intending to ever publish her story.