After years of denying he played any role in doling out hush money to several women with whom he’d had extramarital affairs in exchange for their silence, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that President Donald Trump was not only aware of the potentially illegal payments, he was intimately involved in nearly every step of the process.
Citing a whopping three dozen “people who have direct knowledge of the events or who have been briefed on them,” the Journal’s report seemingly corroborates testimony given by former Trump attorney/lackey Michael Cohen, who named the president as a co-conspirator when he pled guilty to a series of campaign finance charges in August. Cohen also reportedly taped discussions with Trump in which payments to one of the women—former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal—were discussed.
This report, however, goes farther than what has previously been reported. The Journal claimed that Trump actively coordinated with both Cohen and American Media, Inc. chair David Pecker to quash damaging stories about him during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump, the Journal reported, went so far as meeting with Pecker to specifically ask what he could do to help with his campaign.
As part of his role with AMI, Pecker helmed the notoriously Trump-friendly National Enquirer, which repeatedly bought the rights to (and subsequently sat on) stories of the then-candidate’s affairs. Pecker also kept a decade’s worth of incriminating Trump dirt locked away in a safe—something Trump himself worried over. “Maybe he gets hit by a truck,” Trump said, according to a taped conversation between himself and Cohen obtained by CNN in July.
Pecker, for his part, has since been granted immunity in exchange for his help in Cohen’s legal case.
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To make matters worse for Trump, the Journal reported that federal prosecutors have evidence of his involvement in the hush money payments, and had zeroed in on him in both an 80-page draft indictment against Cohen and a subsequent charging document used after Cohen pled guilty.
While Trump himself has never been charged with any crimes stemming from the payments, the question remains whether his extensive role in the process actually constitutes a campaign finance violation itself. Cohen, meanwhile has been both cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and continues to speak with other federal prosecutors ahead of his December 12 sentencing date. Wonder what they could be talking about.