Manhattan prosecutors had been reviewing a hush money payment to a second woman who claimed to have an affair with Donald Trump as part of the grand jury investigation that yielded Thursday’s indictment against the former president, a person familiar with the inquiry said.
It is not immediately clear whether the $150,000 payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal was part of the criminal case, which remains under seal.
Publicly, at least, the Manhattan investigation had focused largely on a separate $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign to silence her about an alleged affair with Trump years before.
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McDougal’s payment in August 2016 was arranged through the publisher of the National Enquirer as part of tabloid practice known as “catch and kill,” in order to prevent it from ever becoming public
Federal prosecutors in New York, who investigated the hush money arrangements as part of a prior investigation into former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, said those payments violated federal campaign finance laws. And Cohen himself has claimed repeatedly that Trump directed him and then-Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg to arrange the payments.
The federal investigation ended without charges being brought against Trump, but Cohen ended up pleading guilty to two campaign finance violations for the payments, as well as a set of other felonies and served most of a three-year prison sentence.
At the time, Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said the former president and his legal team were “pleased that the investigations surrounding these ridiculous campaign finance allegations is now closed. We have maintained from the outset that the president never engaged in any campaign finance violation.”
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But Bragg appears to be investigating those same potential charges, along with potentially others. And while most of the public attention to the case has focused on the hush money payments to Daniels, the adult film actress whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, the interest in McDougal appears to be part of a potentially larger case.
The prosecutors’ inquiries involving McDougal were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The district attorney’s office declined comment. McDougal’s attorney did not immediately respond to inquiries.
Trump attorney Joe Tacopina, appearing on NBC’s Today, said Friday that the former president’s legal team was notified of the indictment late Thursday but do not know what specific charges may be included.
“We don’t know how many counts; we don’t know what the actual charges are,” Tacopina said, adding that he believed the inquiry to center on the payment to Daniels..
The Justice Department investigation also looked into the roles played by National Enquirer Editor in Chief David Pecker and a lawyer for both McDougal and Daniels, Keith Davidson.
Neither were charged in the case, but prosecutors laid out both schemes in Cohen’s detailed 40-page sentencing memo.
In that December 2018 memo, prosecutors said Cohen negotiated McDougal’s “catch and kill” arrangement with the Enquirer by promising it would be paid back by the Trump Organization.
Under the deal, the tabloid would buy the “limited life rights” to McDougal’s story of her relationship with “any then-married man,” in exchange for $150,000 and a commitment to feature her on two magazine covers and publish over one hundred magazine articles authored by her, the sentencing memo said.
“The agreement’s principal purpose,” the Justice Department memo said, “was to suppress (McDougal’s) story so as to prevent the story from influencing the election.”
During the campaign, “Cohen played a central role” in both schemes, including a similar one to buy Stormy Daniels’ silence before the election, the sentencing memo said.
And in both cases, it said, “Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments. In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” the Justice Department reference for Trump himself.
“As a result of Cohen’s actions,” the Justice Department concluded, “neither woman spoke to the press prior to the election.”
Late Thursday, Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, told USA TODAY he could not discuss what his client was asked during his two days of testimony before the Manhattan grand jury last month, including whether prosecutors were focusing on the $150,000 paid to McDougal.
But Davis noted that Pecker was brought before the grand jury to testify earlier this week. And he said prosecutors have a wealth of information to back of Cohen’s claims that Trump himself approved payments to both women under circumstances that would appear to violate campaign laws.
“This is a strong case with corroborating evidence up the wazoo,” Davis said. “Paying hush money that influenced the presidential election? That’s a pretty damn important crime.”