Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s sentencing got most of the attention yesterday, but this information released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York might be even more significant:
The Office also announced today that it has previously reached a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, in connection with AMI’s role in making the above-described $150,000 payment before the 2016 presidential election. As a part of the agreement, AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election. AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.
Assuming AMI’s continued compliance with the agreement, the Office has agreed not to prosecute AMI for its role in that payment. The agreement also acknowledges, among other things, AMI’s acceptance of responsibility, its substantial and important assistance in this investigation, and its agreement to provide cooperation in the future and implement specific improvements to its internal compliance to prevent future violations of the federal campaign finance laws. These improvements include distributing written standards regarding federal election laws to its employees and conducting annual training concerning these standards.
Emphasis added. AMI, parent company of the National Enquirer, is free to support whichever candidate it wants. But paying off someone to suppress a damaging story, with the express intent of helping that candidate, looks like a serious campaign-finance violation.
Trump-skeptical conservative Allahpundit explains how this could be big trouble for the President:
…It’s legal to pay people off to benefit political candidates; it’s not legal to do it without reporting it to the FEC and it’s not legal to exceed the federal cap on contributions. The key question in analyzing whether the payment qualified as a campaign contribution was whether it was made for the purpose of influencing an election, rather than, say, for the purpose of sparing an adulterer’s family from embarrassment. The latter is what got John Edwards off the hook from this same sort of problem a few years ago. In the end, the feds couldn’t prove that his mistress was being hushed up to protect his presidential candidacy rather than to protect Mrs. Edwards from some personal pain.
Which brings us to today’s news. “AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump,” said the company to the WSJ in a statement for its original story about this in November 2016. Two years later, AMI’s now saying something different. And suddenly the president’s in real trouble.
AMI just shredded Trump’s “Edwards defense.” The payment wasn’t made to spare Melania Trump or the Trump children from the embarrassment of learning about the affair. It was made to influence the election — that is, it was a campaign contribution. And it wasn’t reported. And it exceeded the statutory cap. And it was made in concert with the campaign. The DOJ has crept right up to the point of accusing the president of conspiring with AMI to make an illegal contribution. This is why I thought it was silly on Monday for Republican senators to be shrugging off last Friday’s court filings about Cohen on grounds that he’s a sleazeball and a liar whom no one should take seriously. He is a sleazeball and a liar, to be sure, but the feds never would have gone as far as to implicate Trump unless they had evidence beyond Cohen’s say-so. Today it’s implied that they do have more: They have AMI, not just Cohen, confirming that the law was intentionally broken and that “the campaign” knew about it. What does AMI know about Trump’s personal involvement in this?
Trump’s defense now (and maybe it’s the only defense left) will be that he didn’t know….
Good luck with that, considering that Cohen made a recording of him discussing this very issue with Trump in 2016:
Presidential candidate Donald Trump is heard on tape discussing with his attorney Michael Cohen how they would buy the rights to a Playboy model’s story about an alleged affair Trump had with her years earlier, according to the audio recording of the conversation aired exclusively on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time.”
The recording offers the public a glimpse at the confidential discussions between Trump and Cohen, and it confirms the man who now occupies the Oval Office had contemporaneous knowledge of a proposal to buy the rights to the story of Karen McDougal, a woman who has alleged she had an extramarital affair with Trump about a decade ago.
Cohen told Trump about his plans to set up a company and finance the purchase of the rights from American Media, which publishes the National Enquirer. The recording captures what appears to be a routine business conversation of several matters on their agenda. The audio is muddled and the meaning of Trump’s use of the word “cash” is disputed by the two sides.
“I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David,” Cohen said in the recording, likely a reference to American Media head David Pecker.
When financing comes up again later in the conversation, Trump interrupts Cohen asking, “What financing?” according to the recording. When Cohen tells Trump, “We’ll have to pay,” Trump is heard saying “pay with cash” but the audio is muddled and it’s unclear whether he suggests paying with cash or not paying. Cohen says, “no, no” but it is not clear what is said next.
It’s been a long two years since Trump’s shocking election, but it really feels like something has changed in the past few weeks. I’m calling it now: Trump will not be running for re-election in 2020. Assuming he isn’t removed from office before his term runs out, I think he’ll deem himself the most successful President in history, declare victory and avoid a humiliating defeat by choosing not to run again.
(Because my predictions are always so accurate, you know.)