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Trump played key role in coordinating hush money payments to Daniels, McDougal: report

The Hill logo The Hill 11/9/2018 Tal Axelrod
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Video by the Wall Street Journal

President Trump was heavily involved during his presidential campaign in silencing the stories of women who claimed to have extramarital affairs with him, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal that contradicts repeated denials from Trump.

Federal prosecutors have gathered evidence that Trump worked with his friend and media executive David Pecker to use the National Enquirer tabloid to buy the silence of adult-film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, according to interviews the Journal had with three dozen people with knowledge of the transactions.

Trump was allegedly involved in nearly every step of the process to prevent Daniels and McDougal from publicizing their stories and worked with his longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen to coordinate the deals.

In August, Cohen pleaded guilty in New York to charges of bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance law violations relating to the payments. He said he made the payments at the direction of "a candidate for federal office" without mentioning Trump by name.

The payments could have constituted campaign finance violations since any funds used to aid a campaign are supposed to come out of that campaign's coffers, but Cohen paid the women personally and was later reimbursed by Trump.

Trump has dismissed the payments, telling the Journal in an October interview, "Nobody cares about that." He described Cohen as a "public-relations person" who "represented me on very small things."

Cohen has been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller's team and appears to be cooperating with his investigation into Russia's election interference and any possible illegal activity stemming from the Trump campaign. He has apparently told prosecutors of Trump's deep involvement in the payments.

Trump reportedly used his friendship with Pecker, which goes back to the 1990s, to quash unflattering stories about him in the press as he began rising in polls during the 2016 Republican primary.

Pecker, the chairman and CEO of American Media, and Dylan Howard, one of his top executives, then met with McDougal and coordinated the payment to her, which was subsequently reimbursed by Cohen who was reimbursed by Trump.

Cohen personally arranged the deal with Daniels after Pecker refused to get involved in a payment to a porn star. He was again reimbursed by Trump.

Donald Trump, Stormy Daniels posing for the camera: Trump played key role in coordinating hush money payments to Daniels, McDougal: report © Getty Images Trump played key role in coordinating hush money payments to Daniels, McDougal: report

Daniels and McDougal have since filed lawsuits seeking to release them from the nondisclosure agreements associated with those payments.

The White House repeatedly pleaded ignorance of the payments as news of them slowly emerged in the press.

"We have no knowledge of any of this," former White House communications director Hope Hicks said of the McDougal deal.

"You'll have to ask Michael Cohen," Trump told reporters in April when asked if he knew of the payment to Daniels. "Michael is my attorney."

The Journal report comes days after Democrats took control of the House, ushering in a new group of committee leaders who have widespread subpoena power over Trump. They've already expressed deep interest in getting Trump's tax returns, which he refused to release since beginning his campaign in 2015.

Updated at 2:12 p.m. Karen McDougal says she was tricked into staying silent about the alleged affair © Getty Images Karen McDougal says she was tricked into staying silent about the alleged affair


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