On Tuesday, Michael Cohen — former personal attorney and “fixer” for Donald Trump — pleaded guilty to eight charges in federal court, two of which were for campaign finance violations that directly implicated Trump.
During his allocution, Cohen stated:
[O]n or about the summer of 2016, in coordination with, and at the direction of, a candidate for federal office, I and the CEO of a media company at the request of the candidate worked together to keep an individual with information that would be harmful to the candidate and to the campaign from publicly disclosing this information. After a number of discussions, we eventually accomplished the goal by the media company entering into a contract with the individual under which she received compensation of $150,000. I participated in this conduct, which on my part took place in Manhattan, for the principal purpose of influencing the election.
. . . October of 2016, in coordination with, and at the direction of, the same candidate, I arranged to make a payment to a second individual with information that would be harmful to the candidate and to the campaign to keep the individual from disclosing the information. To accomplish this, I used a company that was under my control to make a payment in the sum of $130,000. The monies I advanced through my company were later repaid to me by the candidate. I participated in this conduct, which on my part took place in Manhattan, for the principal purpose of influencing the election.
The fallout from this plea could be quite significant on numerous fronts.
The Stormy Daniels Affair
Immediately following the plea, Michael Avenatti, attorney to adult film star Stormy Daniels filed a motion to depose both Trump and Cohen in a lawsuit that seeks to nullify the settlement agreement intended to ensure his client’s silence.
A previous motion was denied, but Avenatti said he believes that the guilty plea Cohen entered gave new life to his client’s case.
We will be moving quickly to have the court rule on this pending motion seeking depositions of Cohen & Trump and an expedited trial. The American people deserve to know the truth about the conduct of Trump and his cover-up. And we intend on disclosing it.https://t.co/qzrzUUoNxL
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) August 23, 2018
The Keeper of Secrets
On Thursday, Vanity Fair‘s Hive revealed that David Pecker — chairman of American Media Inc. (AMI), the publisher of the National Enquirer — had entered into an immunity deal with federal prosecutors. Long an ally of the president, Pecker and his tabloid publication have shielded Trump from unflattering reports dating back to the 1990’s.
AMI is most likely the media company to which Cohen referred in his statement. Further, The New York Times reported that Dylan Howard, the company’s chief content officer, is also cooperating with prosecutors.
AMI purchased the rights to Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story of an alleged 10-month affair with Trump and then quashed it. According to the Associated Press, David Pecker kept a safe of all of the “catch-and-kill” stories — not just regarding Trump, but other celebrities as well.
After President Trump’s inauguration, the contents of the safe were removed. It is unclear whether they were destroyed or moved to another location.
The Money Man
Perhaps the most shocking news was the revelation that long-time Trump employee and ally, Allen Weisselberg, CFO of the Trump Organization, had also entered into an immunity deal with federal prosecutors and testified before a federal grand jury earlier this year.
It is not yet known the extent of the immunity; however, if it reaches beyond the Cohen plea it could prove even more problematic for Trump. It might also prove problematic for his sons who, along with Weisselberg, are in charge of the trust set up to manage the family business during Trump’s presidency.
The CFO is specifically mentioned in at least one of the tapes released by Cohen in reference to purchasing the rights to Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story of her affiar with Trump. However, Weisselberg has been at the helm of the Trump Organization’s finances for decades and would have been privy to any payments made on behalf of Donald Trump himself, the Trump Organization, or the Trump Foundation.
In June, the New York attorney general’s office filed suit against the Trump Foundation for violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing and illegal coordination with the presidential campaign. As the chief financial officer, Weisselberg would be an important witness in any case involving the finances of the Trump family businesses.
In a segment on MSNBC, Former Watergate assistant special prosecutor, Jill Wine-Banks, said that Weisselberg’s immunity deal may “lead to the downfall of the Trump Organization.”
Others have stated that Weisselberg knows where the proverbial bodies are buried and could be the one who ultimately brings the Trump presidency to an end.
Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, maintains that his client has done nothing wrong and echoes the assertion that campaign finance violations are not crimes.
Read the Hill-Mark Penn’s article demonstrating Cohen pled guilty to two payments that are not violations of the law. If campaign paid for settling private claims it would be fraud. Any nutty theory to harass the President.
— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) August 23, 2018
Additionally, Trump and his advisers continue to deny that the affairs occurred.
[CNN] [Vanity Fair] [New York Times] [AP] [Washington Post] [MSNBC] [Photo courtesy CNN/Raw Story]