Search Warrants Show Trump’s Close Involvement in Hush Money Payoffs

Federal search warrants released Thursday detail how Donald Trump and his allies scrambled in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign to arrange a hush-money deal to hide his alleged affair and contain the fallout from related stories in the press.

The internal chaos consumed Trump, then-attorney Michael Cohen, campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks and even reached campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, according to the documents unsealed by a federal court in New York.

The documents are the first time that the US authorities have identified Trump by name and allege his involvement at key steps in the campaign finance scheme. Authorities had previously referred to Trump in court filings as “Individual 1,” the person who directed Cohen to make the payments. Trump has publicly denied making the payments.

Cohen pleaded guilty to two campaign finance crimes, among others, and is serving a three year prison sentence.
Prosecutors with the US attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York revealed in a letter filed Thursday that they had started — and closed — an investigation into whether any individuals “made false statements, gave false testimony or otherwise obstructed justice in connection with this investigation.”

The letter confirmed, as CNN reported Friday, that prosecutors had “effectively concluded” its investigation into whether anyone else would be charged in the campaign finance scheme.

The letter doesn’t say whose conduct prosecutors were reviewing but a footnote to the search warrant affidavit noted that Hicks said she had learned about the Stormy Daniels’ allegations in November, a month after the first of the calls. A person familiar with the matter said that is a reference to Hicks. Hicks told CNN her testimony was accurate.

The documents show that immediately after the “Access Hollywood” tape came out in October 2016, there was a mad scramble inside the Trump campaign to contain the damage and suppress additional allegations of a sexual nature from reaching public view.

The day after the tape came out, campaign spokeswoman Hicks called Cohen and candidate Trump joined, according to the documents. From there Cohen, acting as a middleman, was involved in at least 10 telephone calls that day, some involving Trump and Hicks and others involving American Media Inc. executives David Pecker and Dylan Howard. AMI owns the National Enquirer tabloid.

Those conversations, FBI officials believed, were apparently about Daniels, an adult film actress also known as Stephanie Clifford, according to the documents.

Following the last of the calls, Howard sent a text to Cohen confirming the deal. “Keith will do it. Let’s reconvene tomorrow.” Keith is Keith Davidson, Daniel’s attorney, according to the court filing.

“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,” an FBI agent wrote in the court documents.

What the parties discussed on the calls is not in the search warrant materials.

Cohen was also in contact with Davidson directly and they later discussed the shell company that Cohen formed to eventually facilitate hush-money payments to Daniels.

“Michael — if we are ever going to close this deal — in my opinion, it needs to be today.” Davidson wrote in a text message the following day.

Last year AMI struck a non-prosecution agreement with prosecutors admitting its involvement in a scheme to “catch and kill” news stories and gossip items that could damage Trump.

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