Donald Trump KNEW about hush money payments to women claiming they had sex with him

Donald Trump directly asked for a hush money payment to be made to a Playboy model who claimed they had an affair then thanked the National Enquirer’s boss for paying her federal prosecutors have found, it was reported Friday.

The Wall Street Journal said that prosecutors had evidence that Trump had intervened directly to suppress alleged sexual encounters ‘several’ times.

Trump asked David Pecker, the CEO of the National Enquirer parent company AMI, how he could help his campaign in August 2015, and Pecker told him that he could buy the silence of women claiming sexual encounters with the then candidate.

The report casts doubt on two years of denials by Trump and his legal team that he knew about hush money payments to Playboy model Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels.

It says that Trump directed the deals during meetings and in telephone calls with Michael Cohen, his longtime attorney and fixer. 

Among the payments made by AMI were $150,000 to McDougal. The payment was made by a direct request from Trump to Pecker. 

The now-president later thanked Pecker, the newspaper reported. It cited interviews with more than 30 people as well as court and company documents.

Long time friends: Donald Trump and David Pecker have a long relationship. They were pictured together in 2004 when Trump presented Pecker with a distinguished alumnus award from Pace University, in New York, which the AMI publisher graduated in 1972.

The Journal reported that Trump was involved in the hush payments at ‘nearly every step of the agreements’ and ‘directed deals’.

It said evidence has been gathered by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York – the same district which has secured the guilty plea from Cohen for which he can expect to send time in prison.

The prosecutors drew up an 80-page draft indictment against Cohen in August in which Trump’s role was outlined and he was described as a ‘member of the campaign.’

When Cohen agreed to a deal a shorter 22-page charging document, it said that the attorney ‘coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments.’

That was a reference to Trump, the newspaper said. The development prompted a call from Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Stormy Daniels, for the immediate indictment of the president.

The paper said Cohen has told prosecutors that Trump was directly involved in the payment of Daniels and that Pecker refused to provide money from AMI to her because he did not want the National Enquirer’s parent company paying a porn star.

The development was published shortly after a tweetstorm from Trump about the recount of senate and gubernatorial election results in Broward County, Florida.

And the fresh reports come after revelations in August that Pecker reached an immunity deal with prosecutors.

It followed longtime Donald Trump lawyer Cohen’s guilty plea to eight counts – including campaign finance violations related to payments to two women who claim they had affairs with Trump.

The extent of the terms of the immunity deal are unknown. The Associated Press reported that Pecker ‘kept a safe containing documents on hush-money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its relationship with Donald Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election.’

Trump referenced Pecker in a recording made by Cohen of discussions surrounding a $150,000 payment by AMI to former Playboy model Karen McDougal. 

Prosecutors included substantial information about the payment in the charging document against Michael Cohen.

But the AP’s story on the safe notes that Pecker and chief content officer, Dylan Howard – who also got immunity – removed the documents from the safe in the weeks before the election, citing a person ‘directly familiar’ with events. 

The documents contained information about hush payments and potentially damaging stories. 

They were fearful the documents could be used against the company, according to the report.

Now, the story notes, it is unclear ‘whether the documents were destroyed or simply moved to a location known to fewer people.’

‘Holy s***, I thought Pecker would be the last one to turn,’ a Trump friend told Vanity Fair.

Trump can be heard discussing the talks with Pecker in a September 2016 call obtained by CNN.   

‘I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David, you know, so that — I’m going to do that right away. I’ve actually come up and I’ve spoken,’ Cohen tells Trump.

‘And, I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,’ Cohen adds, mentioning the Trump Organization CFO.

‘So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty,’ Trump replies. 

Cohen mentions funding, then adds: ”Um, and it’s all the stuff.’

Coverage: How the National Enquirer put Trump on the cover in January 2016

Coverage: How the National Enquirer put Trump on the cover in January 2016

How the National Enquirer put Trump on the cover in December 2016 - after he had won the election

How the National Enquirer put Trump on the cover in December 2016 - after he had won the election

Coverage: How the National Enquirer put Trump on the cover in January 2016 and again in December 2016 – after he had won the election 

Trump then replies, ‘Yeah, I was thinking about that,’ without clarifying what stuff he may being referring to. ‘All the stuff. Because — here, you never know where that company — you never know what he’s,’ Cohen explains, prompting Trump to observe: ‘Maybe he gets hit by a truck.’

Trump’s comment appears to address what would happen to the ‘stuff’ were Pecker no longer around, such as if he left the company.    

The New Yorker in April published a detailed account of AMI’s actions to buy stories that were potentially damaging for Trump. Pecker was so close to disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who also worked to kill damaging stories, that he was known as an ‘F.O.P.’ or ‘friend of Pecker’s,’ the New York Times reported in 2017.    

Cohen pleaded guilty to two campaign finance violations –  one of which was ‘causing an unlawful corporate contribution’ to a campaign.

Charging documents lay out in great detail details of an agreement where former Playboy model Karen McDougal got a $150,000 payment from American Media Inc., which is the parent company of the National Enquirer, and which Pecker heads.

The documents revealed what was known ‘catch and kill’ – an arrangement to prevent the story being published elsewhere.

It identifies ‘Corporation-1’ which was to ‘advance a payment of $150,000 to Woman-1’ with the promise of reimbursement, ‘so as to ensure that Woman-1 did not publicize damaging allegations before the 2016 presidential election and thereby influence that election.’ 

The Wall Street Journal reported the grant of immunity to Pecker – and also to Dylan Howard, editor-in-chief of AMI.

Trump and Cohen can be heard discussing the deal in a September 2016 audio tape released by Cohen and seized by authorities during an FBI raid in April.  

‘So what are we gonna pay,’ Trump says.

‘Yes, um, and it’s all the stuff,’ Cohen responds. ‘All the stuff, all the stuff because you never know where that company — you never know where he’s gonna be.’

Trump then inquires what if he [Pecker] ‘gets hit by a truck?’ – meaning if he were no longer in charge.

‘Correct. So I’m all over that,’ Cohen responded. 

Trump fumed about prosecutorial tactics in an interview with ‘Fox and Friends’ that aired Thursday.   

‘People make up stories. This whole thing about flipping, they call it, I know all about flipping. For 30, 40 years I’ve been watching flippers. Everything’s wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they — they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go,’ he said.  

‘It almost ought to be outlawed. It’s not fair. Because if somebody’s going to give — spend five years like Michael Cohen or 10 years or 15 years in jail because of a taxi cab industry, because he defrauded some bank — the last two were the tiny ones. 

‘You know, campaign violations are considered not a bit deal, frankly. 

‘But if somebody defrauded a bank and he’s going to get 10 years in jail or 20 years in jail but if you can say something bad about Donald Trump and you’ll go down to two years or three years, which is the deal he made,’ the president said.

The Journal reported in June Pecker and AMI’s chief content officer Dylan Howard had received subpoenas from prosecutors. 

At the time, the firm said: ‘American Media Inc. has, and will continue to, comply with any and all requests that do not jeopardize or violate its protected sources or materials pursuant to our First Amendment rights.’

Pecker visited the White House in July 2017 and met with Trump in the Oval Office. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner was also there.

He brought along guest French businessman Kacy Grine, who advises the richest man in Saudi Arabia, the New York Times reported in March.  

AMI CEO David Pecker - seen (center) with his wife Karen and DuJour Media's Jason Binn - got a grant of immunity from prosecutors who secured details of a deal that resulted in a $150,000 payment to a former Playboy model who claims she slept with Donald Trump

AMI CEO David Pecker - seen (center) with his wife Karen and DuJour Media's Jason Binn - got a grant of immunity from prosecutors who secured details of a deal that resulted in a $150,000 payment to a former Playboy model who claims she slept with Donald Trump

AMI CEO David Pecker – seen (center) with his wife Karen and DuJour Media’s Jason Binn – got a grant of immunity from prosecutors who secured details of a deal that resulted in a $150,000 payment to a former Playboy model who claims she slept with Donald Trump

The details of ‘catch and kill’ were set out in federal court documents released after Cohen’s appearance in front of a judge in Manhattan.

Trump himself was referenced obliquely but unmistakably as ‘Individual 1’ – a man who prosecutors note, in formulaic but wry phrasing, began his bid for office ‘on or about June 16, 2015.’

Just two months later, as Trump stunned the political world with his rise, the chairman of a tabloid media company offered the campaign some assistance, the documents said. That company was no named, but is AMI.

The company agreed to flag for Cohen and the campaign unflattering, unpublished stories about Trump’s relationships with women ‘so they could be purchased and their publication avoided,’ prosecutors said.

The company eventually did exactly that, allowing for Cohen throughout the campaign to arrange for stories to be bought and suppressed with the express purpose of ‘influencing the election.’

The timing and amount of the payments line up with those paid to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal to buy their silence in the weeks and months leading up to the election.

Although the plan was in place nearly a year earlier, the first arrangement began in June 2016, weeks after Trump had clinched the Republican nomination.

McDougal, prosecutors allege, began attempting to sell a story of a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006 and 2007.

The timing and amount of payments Cohen pleaded guilty to line up with those paid to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal 

The timing and amount of payments Cohen pleaded guilty to line up with those paid to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal 

The timing and amount of payments Cohen pleaded guilty to line up with those paid to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal 

As promised, it didn’t take long for Cohen to be notified – and to take action, promising to reimburse his tabloid friends for the purchase of her tale. That August, prosecutors allege, AMI struck a $150,000 deal with McDougal to buy her story, feature her on two magazine covers and publish more than 100 magazine articles she authored.

‘Despite the cover and article features to the agreement, its principal purpose, as understood by those involved, including Michael Cohen, the defendant, was to suppress Woman-1’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,’ prosecutors wrote.

The pattern repeated that October, this time with Daniels, who had her own story of a sexual relationship with Trump she was eager to tell.

In that case, Cohen and a lawyer for Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, negotiated a $130,000 payment to buy her silence.

According to the government, the deal nearly fell apart just weeks before the election.

Cohen was slow in finalizing the payment and was warned Daniels was close to completing a separate deal with another outlet to make her story public. An unidentified editor texted Cohen to say it ‘could look awfully bad for everyone’ if a deal was not struck.

Cohen received an encrypted telephone call from someone matching Pecker’s description and from another top editor at the publication before agreeing to make the payment and calling Daniels’ lawyer to finalize the arrangement, prosecutors said.

On Oct. 26, 2016, just weeks before the election, Cohen drew down $131,000 from a home equity line of credit he obtained by lying about his debt and cash flow.

He wired funds to a lawyer for Daniels, falsely saying it was for a ‘retainer,’ and one week before the election, received copies of a signed confidential agreement with the actress.

Prosecutors allege Trump Organization executives ultimately reimbursed Cohen for both the $130,000 payment to Daniels and another $50,000 for ‘tech services’ that Cohen solicited on the campaign’s behalf.

Prosecutors cited an email in which one unnamed Trump Organization executive told another to pay Cohen $420,000 out of ‘the trust,’ disguising the money as payment owed to the lawyer under a legal retainer agreement.

‘In truth and in fact, there was no such retainer agreement,’ prosecutors wrote.

For federal prosecutors who have spent months investigating the president’s lawyer, the timing of the payments was no accident.

They don’t say specifically Trump directed Cohen to make the payments, an allegation Cohen made in court, but the documents do note Cohen ‘coordinated with one or more members of the campaign.’

The money, the government says, was intended ‘to influence the 2016 presidential election.’

The intent is essential to the case. Corporations aren’t permitted to contribute to campaigns and money intended to influence an election must be reported as a contribution. The money to Daniels and McDougal was not.

All told, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight crimes, including campaign finance violations, tax evasion and false statements to a bank. He could get about four to five years in prison at sentencing Dec. 12.

As for Trump, personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said there ‘is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the president in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen.’ 

The revelation of the catch-and-kill arrangement and immunity for Pecker and Howard came as people familiar with the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they signed non-disclosure agreements, that it had a safe full of stories which had been ‘caught and killed’.

They said the safe was a great source of power for Pecker, the company’s CEO.

The Trump records were stored alongside similar documents pertaining to other celebrities’ catch-and-kill deals, in which exclusive rights to people’s stories were bought with no intention of publishing to keep them out of the news. 

By keeping celebrities’ embarrassing secrets, the company was able to ingratiate itself with them and ask for favors in return.

But after The Wall Street Journal initially published the first details of Playboy model Karen McDougal’s catch-and-kill deal shortly before the 2016 election, those assets became a liability. 

Fearful that the documents might be used against American Media, Pecker and the company’s chief content officer, Howard, removed them from the safe in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration, according to one person directly familiar with the events.

The AP cannot say whether the documents were destroyed or simply were moved to a location known to fewer people.

American Media did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Former Enquirer employees who spoke to the AP said that negative stories about Trump were dead on arrival dating back more than a decade when he starred on NBC’s reality show ‘The Apprentice.’

In 2010, at Cohen’s urging, the National Enquirer began promoting a potential Trump presidential candidacy, referring readers to a pro-Trump website Cohen helped create. 

With Cohen’s involvement, the publication began questioning President Barack Obama’s birthplace and American citizenship in print, an effort that Trump promoted for several years, former staffers said.

The Enquirer endorsed Trump for president in 2016, the first time it had ever officially backed a candidate. In the news pages, Trump’s coverage was so favorable that the New Yorker magazine said the Enquirer embraced him ‘with sycophantic fervor.’

Positive headlines for Trump, a Republican, were matched by negative stories about his opponents, including Hillary Clinton, a Democrat: An Enquirer front page from 2015 said ‘Hillary: 6 Months to Live’ and accompanied the headline with a picture of an unsmiling Clinton with bags under her eyes.    

ROBERT MUELLER’S PROBE SO FAR: EIGHT CONVICTIONS – INCLUDING THREE TOP TRUMP AIDES, A JAILED ATTORNEY AND 25 RUSSIANS ACCUSED

GUILTY: MICHAEL FLYNN 

Pleaded guilty to making false statements in December 2017. Awaiting sentence

Flynn was President Trump’s former National Security Advisor and Robert Mueller’s most senior scalp to date. He previously served when he was a three star general as President Obama’s director of the Defense Intelligence Agency but was fired. 

He admitted to lying to special counsel investigators about his conversations with a Russian ambassador in December 2016. He has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel investigation.

GUILTY: MICHAEL COHEN

Pleaded guilty to eight counts including fraud and two campaign finance violations in August 2018. Awaiting sentence

Cohen was Trump’s longtime personal attorney, starting working for him and the Trump Organization in 2007. He is the longest-serving member of Trump’s inner circle to be implicated by Mueller. Cohen professed unswerving devotion to Trump – and organized payments to silence two women who alleged they had sex with the-then candidate: porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal.He admitted that payments to both women were felony campaign finance violations – and admitted that he acted at the ‘direction’ of ‘Candidate-1’: Donald Trump.

He also admitted tax fraud by lying about his income from loans he made, money from  taxi medallions he owned, and other sources of income, at a cost to the Treasury of $1.3 million.

Campaign role: Paul Manafort chaired Trump's campaign for four months - which included the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016, where he appeared on stage beside Trump who was preparing  to formally accept the Republican nomination

Campaign role: Paul Manafort chaired Trump's campaign for four months - which included the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016, where he appeared on stage beside Trump who was preparing  to formally accept the Republican nomination

GUILTY: PAUL MANAFORT

Found guilty of eight charges of bank and tax fraud in August 2018. Pleaded guilty to two charges Awaiting sentence and second trial

Manafort worked for Trump’s campaign from March 2016 and chaired it from June to August 2016, overseeing Trump being adopted as Republican candidate at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. He is the most senior campaign official to be implicated by Mueller. Manafort was one of Washington D.C.’s longest-term and most influential lobbyists but in 2015, his money dried up and the next year he turned to Trump for help, offering to be his campaign chairman for free – in the hope of making more money afterwards. But Mueller unwound his previous finances and discovered years of tax and bank fraud as he coined in cash from pro-Russia political parties and oligarchs in Ukraine.

Manafort pleaded not guilty to 18 charges of tax and bank fraud but was convicted of eight counts. The jury was deadlocked on the other 10 charges. A second trial on charges of failing to register as a foreign agent is due in September.  

GUILTY: RICK GATES 

Pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States and making false statements in February 2018. Awaiting sentence

Gates was Manafort’s former deputy at political consulting firm DMP International. He admitted to conspiring to defraud the U.S. government on financial activity, and to lying to investigators about a meeting Manafort had with a member of congress in 2013. As a result of his guilty plea and promise of cooperation, prosecutors vacated charges against Gates on bank fraud, bank fraud conspiracy, failure to disclose foreign bank accounts, filing false tax returns, helping prepare false tax filings, and falsely amending tax returns.

GUILTY AND WILL BE JAILED: GEORGE PAPADOPOLOUS

Pleaded guilty to making false statements in October 2017. Sentenced to 14 days in September 2018, to be served at a later date

Papadopoulos was a member of Donald Trump’s campaign foreign policy advisory committee. He admitted to lying to special counsel investigators about his contacts with London professor Josef Mifsud and Ivan Timofeev, the director of a Russian government-funded think tank. 

He has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel investigation.

GUILTY AND JAILED: RICHARD PINEDO

Pleaded guilty to identity fraud in February 2018. Sentenced to a year in prison

Pinedo is a 28-year-old computer specialist from Santa Paula, California. He admitted to selling bank account numbers to Russian nationals over the internet that he had obtained using stolen identities. 

He has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel investigation.

GUILTY AND JAILED: ALEX VAN DER ZWAAN

Pleaded guilty to making false statements in February 2018. He served a 30-day prison sentence earlier this year and was deported to the Netherlands upon his release.

Van der Zwaan is a Dutch attorney for Skadden Arps who worked on a Ukrainian political analysis report for Paul Manafort in 2012. 

He admitted to lying to special counsel investigators about when he last spoke with Rick Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik.

GUILTY:  W. SAMUEL PATTEN

Pleaded guilty in August 2018 to failing to register as a lobbyist while doing work for a Ukrainian political party. Awaiting sentence.

Patten, a long-time D.C. lobbyist was a business partner of Paul Manafort. He pleaded guilty to admitting to arranging an illegal $50,000 donation to Trump’s inauguration.

He arranged for an American ‘straw donor’ to pay $50,000 to the inaugural committee, knowing that it was actually for a Ukrainian businessman.

Neither the American or the Ukrainian have been named.   

CHARGED: KONSTANTIN KILIMNIK

Indicted for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. 

Kilimnik is a former employee of Manafort’s political consulting firm and helped him with lobbying work in Ukraine. He is accused of witness tampering, after he allegedly contacted individuals who had worked with Manafort to remind them that Manafort only performed lobbying work for them outside of the U.S.

He has been linked to  Russian intelligence and is currently thought to be in Russia – effectively beyond the reach of extradition by Mueller’s team.

INDICTED: THE RUSSIANS 

Twenty-five Russian nationals and three Russian entities have been indicted for conspiracy to defraud the United States. 

Two of these Russian nationals were also indicted for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 11 were indicted for conspiracy to launder money. Fifteen of them were also indicted for identity fraud. 

Vladimir Putin has ridiculed the charges. Russia effectively bars extradition of its nationals. The only prospect Mueller has of bringing any in front of a U.S. jury is if Interpol has their names on an international stop list – which is not made public – and they set foot in a territory which extradites to the U.S. 

ANALYSIS: CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAWS, IMPEACHMENT AND TRUMP – WHY MAKING A CASE COULD BE TOUGH BUT PRESIDENT SHOULDN’T FEEL RELIEVED YET

Michael Cohen’s guilty plea to two campaign finance law violations has plunged Donald Trump into the center of what his enemies have been looking for: a potential crime.

His critics have seized on what Cohen pleaded guilty to: making an illegal campaign contribution in the form of organizing payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels ‘to influence the 2016 presidential election’ – and then what he said under penalty of perjury, that he did it ‘at the direction of’ Trump.

Cohen, court papers say, was reimbursed for the payment to Stormy Daniels by  the Trump Organization and given a bonus on top. 

That appeared to create a simple case against Trump, as put by Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis, that if Cohen committed a crime, then clearly Trump did too, by directing him to do it.

What has Trump said in his defense so far? 

The Trump defense has been less than clear-cut. He has suggested that Cohen told ‘lies’ in his guilty plea, saying to Fox & Friends Thursday: ”People make up stories,’ he said. ‘It’s called flipping.’

He also suggested that the campaign finance violations that Cohen says he committed at Trump’s direction couldn’t have been crimes, because they ‘weren’t even campaign related’ and that Cohen only said they were ‘because he makes a better deal when he uses me, like everybody else.’

And he has also said that he personally made the payments and that they were not from campaign funds, although he did not know of them when they were made.

All that presents a complicated set of questions for either a Democratic House of Representatives seeking impeachement, or prosecutors drawing up an indictment (which is to assume that it is possible to indict a sitting president).

What crime can be prosecuted or made out for impeachment?

Campaign finance law says that all contributions made to a campaign have to be declared. 

Cohen says that the payments to Stormy Daniels – by him – and Karen McDougal – by American Media Inc – were ‘to influence the outcome of the election’. 

They were never declared as contributions by the Trump campaign. The 

Daniels payment of $130,000 also exceeded the personal limit on Cohen’s contributions of $5,400.

So Trump could be accused of failing to declare a contribution made to his campaign by his own company, the ultimate paymaster of Cohen, and of knowingly accepting an illegal donation – one over the $2,700 limit.

And he could be accused of conspiracy to make an illegal contribution by directing Cohen to arrange the payments. 

Trump’s defense options: He didn’t know it was a crime 

Federal law sets a high burden of proof on campaign finance prosecutions. The Department of Justice tells prosecutors that campaign finance violations ‘become potential crimes when they are committed knowingly and willfully, that is, by an offender who knew what the law forbade and violated it notwithstanding that knowledge’.

Prosecutors have to prove his state of mind ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. 

So Trump’s first avenue of defense can simply be to say he had no idea it was a crime – which would stop the Department of Justice acting against him. 

Campaign finance law is complicated and he is not an attorney he could argue – Cohen knew he was committing a crime, but Trump had no idea. 

Members of Congress have no guidelines, so they could class directing that payment as a ‘high crime or misdemeanor’ without proving Trump’s state of mind, or even if showed that he did not know it was a crime – but if they did, they would be impeaching for an offense in circumstances which the Department of Justice would never be able to secure a conviction on in court.

Trump’s defense would be helped by the fact that Cohen did not say that Trump knew it was illegal when he ‘directed’ it. 

‘I didn’t direct payments – I OKed them afterwards’

Trump and Cohen have differing versions of history – although Cohen gave his under penalty of perjury.

Cohen says Trump knew about the payments in advance and ‘directed’ them, Trump says he knew about them ‘later’ – i.e., after they were paid.

Trump has shifted his timeline on when he knew but in a clash of credibility with Cohen, it would be a president up against a felon – with his attorneys doing everything in their power to attack his former fixer.

‘I was a sinner saving my marriage, not swinging an election’

Trump’s other obvious defense can be one that was used by John Edwards in the only prosecution of presidential candidate for violating campaign finance laws through secret payments to buy a woman’s silence: that it was not a donation to the campaign, so it wasn’t a crime.

Edwards, a 2008 Democratic contender, was accused of running an illegal campaign donation scheme by having two wealthy donors pay his mistress Rielle Hunter, the mother of their secret daughter Quinn, hundreds of thousands of dollars to conceal their affair – and that he did so to ‘influence the outcome of the election’.

In my defense: John Edwards said that payments to Rielle Hunter, the mother of their secret daughter Quinn, were evidence of his sin, not campaign crime

In my defense: John Edwards said that payments to Rielle Hunter, the mother of their secret daughter Quinn, were evidence of his sin, not campaign crime

In my defense: John Edwards said that payments to Rielle Hunter, the mother of their secret daughter Quinn, were evidence of his sin, not campaign crime

Edwards’ attorneys advanced a simple defense: That he was a sinner who had tried to keep the truth about his mistress and love child from his desperately-ill wife, and that the money was not about the campaign, but saving his marriage.

Two former chairs of the Federal Election Commission said that they would not have classified the payments as breaches of its code, which is civil law, never mind as crimes.

The prosecution failed when the trial ended with a deadlocked jury and prosecutors decided against a retrial.

Trump could try to use the same basic point to shape a defense: He could say that he was protecting Melania from knowing about women who claimed they had sex with him – and not trying to change the outcome of the election.

Edwards played the humility card during his defense, with his attorneys saying he was a sinner, not a criminal. While Trump has hardly adopted the same tone, he could do so – or his attorneys could do it for him.

Why admitting trying to stop a kiss-and-tell is a risk for Trump 

Other aspects of the Edwards case present challenges to a strategy of admitting to sin but not crime.

Firstly, Hunter was not trying to sell her story when she was paid and prosecutors never suggested that she was in any way interested in doing so – whereas Cohen organized hush money for McDougal and Daniels to stop them going public. 

What would be best? Trump might admit to cracks in his marriage to defend himself - at the risk of hurting Melania publicly

What would be best? Trump might admit to cracks in his marriage to defend himself - at the risk of hurting Melania publicly

What would be best? Trump might admit to cracks in his marriage to defend himself – at the risk of hurting Melania publicly

Secondly, Rudy Giuliani has already linked paying Stormy Daniels for silence to the election, saying: ‘Imagine if that came out on October 15th 2016 in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton.’

Thirdly, the payments Edwards was prosecuted over were made at the time his mistress was pregnant, and in the long run-up to the primary election – whereas McDougal and Daniels were paid a decade after their alleged affairs and in the heat of the election campaign proper. 

And prosecutors in the Edwards case never put the two people whose cash went to his mistress on the stand: one, Fred Baron, was dead in 2008, four years before the failed prosecution; the other, Bunny Mellon was 101 in 2012. The jury never heard their version of why they sent money to Edwards’ mistress.

In contrast prosecutors or Democratic congress members have Cohen, and possibly AMI’s CEO David Pecker, to put on the stand and testify about what happened – with Cohen already saying the intent was to ‘change the outcome of the election’. 

Finally it is politically tricky – Trump has never admitted to cracks in his marriage to Melania. Her reaction to it is uncertain, and so too would be the reaction of evangelical Christians who form part of his base. 

‘I made the payments myself – there’s no limit on what I can do’

Trump’s other approach could be one he has hinted at already when he said that he paid the money himself, even though he did not know about the payments until after they were made.

Trump was the one person with no limit on how much cash he gave to his campaign – the $5,400 limit did not apply to him or to Hillary Clinton helping out her campaign from her estimated $200 million family fortune.

But Cohen’s court case shows that he was reimbursed for the Stormy Daniel payment via the Trump Organization, in a payment authorized by one of its executives.

Trump faces a critical difficulty with this: corporations are forbidden from making direct campaign contributions – his included.

Even though the Trump Organization, the umbrella for hundreds of companies, is essentially his property, he could not use it as a piggy bank for his run for the presidency.

This is why it was reimbursed large amounts of money from the campaign for the rental of hotel rooms, office space and equipment and even Trump Force Once.

But convincing a jury – or two-thirds of the senate – that this point of campaign finance law was knowingly broken by a man who has been essentially his own company for all his adult life is a high bar for prosecutors, and one Trump’s attorneys could profitably exploit.  

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