A five-year-old letter surfaced Wednesday that appeared to show President Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen lied to investigators about a hush money payment made during the 2016 presidential election.
The letter, dated February 8, 2018, was written by Cohen’s attorney Stephen M. Ryan to the Federal Election Commission about the payment Cohen made to porn actress Stormy Daniels. In it, Cohen’s lawyer claims that Cohen used “his own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford.”
“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed Mr. Cohen for the payment directly or indirectly,” the letter said.
Cohen pled guilty six months after that letter was written to several charges in federal court, including campaign finance violations related to the payment to Daniels.
Cohen, who has since been disbarred, is a key figure in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office grand jury investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged involvement in that payment to Daniels. He has told investigators for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and testified to the grand jury that he made the payments at the direction of Trump.
Attorney Robert Costello, who used to advise Cohen, reportedly attacked the credibility of Cohen in court this week after he said that he had information that contradicted some of Cohen’s current statements and that “could be exculpatory for Trump.”
The letter was not presented to the grand jury, which did not meet on Wednesday, but is expected to reconvene on Thursday. Even if grand jurors remain unaware of its contents, the letter could impact Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s decision on whether to seek an indictment, given Cohen’s credibility problems.
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As noted by the New York Post and The New York Times, Cohen was paid $420,000 by Trump or Trump’s trust. According to federal prosecutors, that money included $130,000 for the payment and $50,000 for digital work Cohen did for Trump. That $180,000 was then allegedly doubled to offset taxes. The remaining $60,000 was a “bonus,” prosecutors say.
Although non-disclosure agreements are legal, the potential problem for Trump centers around how his company reimbursed Cohen. The payment was listed as a legal expense and the company cited a retainer agreement with Cohen. The retainer agreement did not exist and the reimbursement was not related to any legal services from Cohen, thus setting up a potential misdemeanor criminal charge of falsifying business records. The report said that Trump personally signed several of the checks to Cohen while he was serving as president.
Prosecutors can elevate the misdemeanor to a felony if they can prove that Trump’s “‘intent to defraud’ included an intent to commit or conceal a second crime.”
Prosecutors argue that the second crime is that the alleged $130,000 hush payment was an improper donation to the Trump campaign because the money was used to stop a story for the purpose of benefiting his presidential campaign.
This report has been updated to include additional information.