On Donald Trump’s orders, his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen twice broke campaign finance laws by paying off women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, federal prosecutors said in a court filing today.
Cohen’s payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal via shell companies “struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency,” prosecutors from New York’s Southern District wrote. The memo suggested that Cohen spend four years behind bars.
During the campaign, Cohen played a central role in two similar schemes to purchase the rights to stories—each from women who claimed to have had an affair with Individual-1 [Trump]—so as to suppress the stories and thereby prevent them from influencing the election. With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. 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. (PSR ¶ 51). 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.
“While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows,” the memo continues. “In the process, Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.”
The prosecutors say this behavior is exactly what Congress seeks to prevent. “To promote transparency and prevent wealthy individuals like Cohen from circumventing these limits, Congress prohibited individuals from making expenditures on behalf of and coordinated with candidates,” they write.
These charges are one result of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.