Documents released by a judge’s order on Thursday detailed a flurry of communications involving Donald Trump, his campaign team, personal lawyer Michael Cohen and others to engineer hush-money payments shortly before the 2016 election to an adult-film actress who said she had a sexual encounter with the president.
U.S. District Justice William Pauley in Manhattan on Wednesday had ordered that the material, used by prosecutors to obtain a 2018 search warrant for Mr. Cohen’s home and office, be unsealed on Thursday morning. The judge found there was no reason to keep the documents secret after prosecutors told him that their investigation into the payments had ended.
Mr. Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty in August, 2018, to violating campaign finance law by directing payments of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels and $150,000 to Playboy model Karen McDougal to avert a scandal shortly before the 2016 presidential election. Both women have said they had sexual encounters with Mr. Trump more than a decade ago and that the money was meant to buy their silence. Mr. Trump has denied the encounters and in 2018, told reporters he knew nothing about a payment to Ms. Daniels.
The documents reveal frequent phone calls and text messages involving Mr. Cohen, Trump staffers and American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper, in a bid to prevent Ms. Daniels’s account of a relationship with Mr. Trump from harming his election chances. Mr. Trump took part in some of the calls, the documents showed. One text from Mr. Cohen apparently described Mr. Trump as “pissed.”
The search warrant application described a phone call on Oct. 8, 2016, about a month before the election, involving Mr. Trump, Mr. Cohen and Hope Hicks, then the press secretary for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, which prosecutors believed was to discuss paying to squash public reports of an affair between Mr. Trump and Ms. Daniels.
FLURRY OF CALLS
A few minutes after that call, Mr. Cohen called David Pecker, the president of American Media Inc. who was close to Mr. Trump, and then received a call from another employee at AMI, which published the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper. A short time later, Mr. Cohen called Ms. Hicks back for about two minutes. Calls between the Trump campaign, AMI and Mr. Cohen continued through the evening.
Prosecutors said these calls were to discuss getting a payment to Keith Davidson, then an attorney for Ms. Daniels.
On Oct. 17, 2016, Mr. Cohen was involved in calls and texts as he feared the attempted settlement agreement might fall apart, according to the warrant application.
The documents indicated that Dylan Howard, chief content officer at AMI, believed Ms. Daniels might be trying to sell her story to a news outlet after all.
“I’m told they’re going with DailyMail,” Mr. Howard wrote in a text to Mr. Cohen late that afternoon, referring to a British tabloid. “Are you aware?” The pair quickly got on the phone. Mr. Cohen tried to call Mr. Trump but appears to have been unsuccessful, the documents showed.
The negotiations continued with Mr. Cohen communicating multiple times on Oct. 26 with Ms. Daniels’s lawyer and the two AMI executives, Mr. Pecker and Mr. Howard, the documents showed.
The following morning Mr. Cohen called Mr. Trump and spoke with him for about three minutes, and then soon after made a second call for about 90 seconds to Mr. Trump, the documents showed. Less than 30 minutes later, Mr. Cohen sent e-mails to a person who had set up the limited liability companies through which the payment funds were handled, asking that he be sent “the filing receipt” as soon as possible, the documents showed.
After meeting with a bank representative from First Republic Bank at Trump Tower that day, Mr. Cohen transferred US$131,000 out of a home equity line of credit that Cohen had at First Republic, which prosecutors said was used to pay Ms. Daniels.
MORE TRUMP-COHEN CALLS
Before the payoff negotiations began, Mr. Cohen spoke on the phone with Mr. Trump about once a month and rarely had phone contact with his campaign staff, the search warrant said.
Beginning on Oct. 8, there was a surge in calls with Mr. Trump and his campaign staff as Mr. Cohen conducted negotiations with Ms. Daniels’s lawyer and the two AMI executives, it showed. Amid these negotiations, Mr. Trump spoke with Mr. Cohen at least five times on the phone through to Oct. 28. The warrant shows Mr. Cohen repeatedly speaking on the phone with Ms. Hicks, one of Mr. Trump’s closest aides who later worked in the White House.
Ms. Hicks testified before the House Judiciary Committee earlier this year that she was never present for any discussion during the campaign between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen about Ms. Daniels.
The documents explain more about the role of Ms. Hicks, who spoke with Mr. Cohen several times about the importance of keeping the Daniels and McDougal stories from “gaining national traction.” Not long after the Wall Street Journal published an article online four days before the Nov. 8 election, the documents showed Cohen sent a text message to Hicks saying the article was getting “little to no traction,” prompting her to respond: “Same. Keep praying!! It’s working!”
On the same day as that text, Mr. Howard texted Mr. Cohen about the Wall Street Journal story, saying, “I think it’ll be ok pal. I think it’ll fade into the distance,” the documents showed. Mr. Cohen responded, “He’s pissed,” an apparent reference to Mr. Trump, according to the documents.
Mr. Cohen, who was once Mr. Trump’s self-described “fixer,” began serving a three-year prison sentence in May for his campaign finance violations and other crimes, including making false statements to a bank and tax evasion.
Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty last November to separate charges brought by the office of former Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, who was investigating contacts between Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia. Mr. Cohen admitted he lied to Congress about the extent of contacts between Mr. Trump and Russians during the campaign.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment. AMI and a lawyer for Ms. Hicks did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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