Donald Trump helped illegally reimburse his former lawyer Michael Cohen for hush money payments made ahead of the 2016 election, then confirmed their arrangement in a conversation in the Oval Office in 2017, according to new documents released by prosecutors to lay out the alleged scheme.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg Jr. revealed the allegations on Tuesday in a statement of facts his office released as the 34-count indictment against Trump was unsealed following the former president's historic arraignment. The document provides a play-by-play of how Trump allegedly hid three payments of hush money — one to adult film star Stormy Daniels, another to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, and a third to a Trump Tower door attendant — with falsified invoices, general ledger entries, and checks.
According to prosecutors, these payments were orchestrated after "identifying and purchasing" negative information about Trump in order to suppress its publication and benefit his 2016 electoral prospects. In doing so, those involved in the scheme violated election laws, falsified business records, and mischaracterized for tax purposes the true nature of the payments, the indictment states.
Prosecutors say that in August 2015, Trump and Cohen met with David Pecker, then-CEO of American Media, which that owns several tabloids, including the National Enquirer, to head off potential negative news stories during the presidential campaign. The practice, called "catch and kill," isn't uncommon, but according to the New Yorker, American Media was especially keen to do it because Pecker was personal friends with Trump.
The media company's first "catch and kill" involved a Trump Tower door attendant who was trying to sell a story of a child Trump allegedly fathered out of wedlock. American Media paid the door attendant $30,000 for rights to the story — which later proved to be bogus — and then never ran it. The second "catch and kill" was about McDougal, who claimed to have an affair with Trump while he was married in the early 2000s. According to prosecutors, American Media paid McDougal $150,000 to not go public with the story.
In a recorded conversation in September 2016, Cohen allegedly told Trump he would open a company for the wire transfer to McDougal and said that he had spoken to the CFO of the Trump Organization about “how to set the whole thing up."
“So what do we got to pay for this?" Trump asked, according to the district attorney's office. "One fifty?” he added before suggesting paying with cash.
Prosecutors allege Cohen disagreed and that Trump then suggested paying by check.
After the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump told host Billy Bush he grabs women "by the pussy" became public in October 2016, prosecutors say American Media's editor-in-chief connected Daniels's lawyer with Cohen to secure her silence. However, Trump allegedly did not want to make the $130,000 payment himself, so Cohen agreed to do it on his behalf.
According to prosecutors, the men delayed paying Daniels until October 2016, when Cohen opened a bank account in Manhattan for a shell company named Essential Consultants LLC. Cohen then transferred $131,000 from his personal home equity line of credit into the account before wiring the $130,000 to Daniels' attorney as a hush payment.
After the 2016 election, Trump repaid Cohen through monthly payments that prosecutors allege were disguised as payments for legal services.
After Trump won the election, American Media released the Trump Tower door attendant and McDougal from their nondisclosure agreements. Before and after Trump's inauguration, prosecutors say he met with Pecker privately to thank him for killing the stories about the door attendant and McDougal.
In January 2017, the Trump Organization's CFO agreed to pay back Cohen through monthly payments throughout the year as part of a "retainer agreement" the prosecutors say was bogus. A year later, Trump and Cohen allegedly met in the Oval Office to confirm the repayment agreement.
In February 2017, Cohen emailed an invoice requesting payment that the Trump Organization approved and sent to accounts payable with the instructions “Post to legal expenses. Put ‘retainer for the months of January and February 2017’ in the description.”
Prosecutors say Cohen did this 10 more times, with each invoice falsely stating that it was for a retainer agreement. Trump also allegedly paid Cohen personally for nine payments, with the checks including false statements.
"In total, 34 false entries were made in New York business records to conceal the initial covert $130,000 payment," Bragg's office said in a statement. "Further, participants in the scheme took steps that mischaracterized, for tax purposes, the true nature of the reimbursements."
In August 2018, the FBI served a search warrant at Cohen's home and offices, after which prosecutors say Trump told him during a phone call to "stay strong."
Cohen eventually pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges, including tax evasion and making false statements to a financial institution. In September 2018, American Media entered a non-prosecution agreement in exchange for cooperating with the investigation.