Donald Trump, his close aide Hope Hicks and personal lawyer Michael Cohen scrambled after the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in an apparent attempt to squash stories of his alleged extramarital affairs before the 2016 election, newly released court documents show.
The documents, which were unsealed by a federal judge in Manhattan on Thursday, were used by prosecutors in 2018 to obtain a search warrant for Cohen’s home and office. Cohen, Trump’s longtime fixer, pleaded guilty last year to violating campaign finance laws in arranging $130,000 in hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and $150,000 to Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both women said they had sexual affairs with Trump, which he has denied.
The president, who once denied knowing about the payments, argued late last year that any money paid to the women was private and not related to his campaign.
Prosecutors said Trump personally directed Cohen to orchestrate the payments. The documents show Cohen spoke with Trump on the phone at least twice amid a flurry of calls the FBI believes were used to arrange them.
On Oct. 8, 2016, the day after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, Cohen received a call from Hicks, then the press secretary for Trump’s presidential campaign, at 7:20 p.m. ET, according to an FBI review of telephone records cited in the unsealed documents. Trump joined the call, which lasted over four minutes. About 10 minutes after the call ended, Hicks and Cohen spoke on the phone again, this time for two minutes.
Immediately after their call ended, Cohen called David Pecker, Trump’s friend and the president of American Media Inc., which owns the National Enquirer. Daniels and McDougal had each offered to sell their stories to the Enquirer.
Three minutes after that call ended, he received a call from Dylan Howard, AMI’s chief content officer. After that, Cohen called Hicks. Then Cohen then received a call from Pecker.
“About three minutes after ending his call with Pecker, Cohen called Trump and they spoke for nearly eight minutes,” an FBI agent recounts.
The FBI agent recounts how, the day after the Access Hollywood tape on 10/7/16, Cohen had a series of phone calls over the course of two hours with Hope Hicks, then-candidate Trump, and two AMI execs, David Pecker and Dylan Howard. The Stormy Daniels letter was signed 10/10/16 pic.twitter.com/rKHQsiujMJ— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) July 18, 2019
After two more calls with Howard, Cohen received a text message from him that said: “Keith will do it. Let’s reconvene tomorrow.” According to the FBI agent, “Keith” referred to Keith Davidson, an attorney for Daniels. Early on Oct. 9, Cohen replied, saying “thank you.”
On Oct. 10, after Howard connected Cohen and Davidson in a group text, Davidson wrote to Cohen: “Michael — if we are ever going to close this deal — In my opinion, it needs to be today.” Davidson and Cohen then spoke on the phone for three minutes.
According to the FBI, Davidson and Daniels appear to have signed an agreement “not to discuss any prior affair with then-candidate Trump” on the same day.
The FBI agent also noted that Trump spoke with Cohen twice on Oct. 26 as Cohen was in the process of setting up a bank account and business entity that were used to facilitate the hush-money payments.
Hicks told investigators that she did not learn about the allegations made by Daniels until early November 2016. And in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee last month, Hicks said that she was never present for discussions between Trump and Cohen about Daniels.
Last August, Cohen was sentenced to 36 months in prison for his role in violating campaign finance laws and for tax and fraud crimes related to his personal business dealings.
The release of the documents came a day after prosecutors announced that the federal investigation into the hush-money matter was closed.
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