- In August of 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance law by making a contribution to the Trump campaign in the form of a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels to buy her silence on an alleged affair she had with Trump.
- As the FBI and federal prosecutors zeroed in on Cohen, Trump denied any knowledge of the payment and attacked Cohen as a criminal and a liar.
- But federal agents found multiple phone and text message records between Cohen, Trump, and Trump's press secretary Hope Hicks around the time of the payments that may indicate Trump was aware of the scheme.
Newly unsealed search warrant documents in the federal government's case against President Donald Trump 's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen seem to undermine Trump's insistence that he knew nothing about a hush-money payment made to a porn star before the election.
In August 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal charges in the Southern District of New York including charges of tax fraud, bank fraud, and violating federal campaign finance law by making a contribution to the Trump campaign in the form of a $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels far over the legal limit of $2,7000 to buy her silence on an alleged affair she had with Trump.
The former Trump lawyer is currently serving a 36-month prison sentence on those charges and an additional charge of lying to Congress brought by the former special counsel Robert Mueller's office.
Cohen's guilty plea came four months after the FBI obtained a federal search warrant in April 2018 to conduct a raid on a hotel room Cohen was staying in, seizing documents and electronic communications.
In December, federal prosecutors released a sentencing recommendation for Cohen which said he had made the payments "in coordination with at the direction of Individual-1," which prosecutors said had taken the office of the presidency in January 2017, establishing Trump as an un-indicted co-conspirator in the case.
On July 16, the presiding judge in the case, Judge William Pauley III, ordered the unsealing of hundreds of pages of documents surrounding the execution of the warrant, and they shed even more light on Trump's communications with Cohen around the time of the 2016 election.
In one affidavit written by an FBI agent and unsealed Thursday , the agent dedicated an entire section to the "Illegal Campaign Contribution Scheme."
As Daniels was threatening to take her story public, the affidavit describes a concerted and frantic effort between Cohen, Daniels' lawyers, and executives at American Media Inc., which owns the tabloid The National Enquirer, to prevent the story from getting out. Cohen also pleaded guilty to making an unauthorized corporate contribution to AMI to kill unflattering stories about Trump's alleged affairs.
As the FBI and federal prosecutors zeroed in on Cohen, Trump denied any knowledge of the payment and attacked Cohen as a criminal and a liar.
"You'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You'll have to ask Michael," Trump told reporters on April 5, 2018 when asked about the payment, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal in January 2018.
But the newly released documents show that by examining Cohen's electronic and phone records, agents discovered multiple calls between Trump, Cohen, and Trump's press secretary Hope Hicks right around the time of payments.
The agent wrote: "Based on the timing of these calls, and the content of the text messages and emails, I believe that at least some of these communications concerned the need to prevent Clifford from going public, particularly in the wake of the Access Hollywood story."
Specifically, agents cited an October 8, 2016 call from Hicks to Cohen which Trump joined after 16 seconds. After the three-way call ended, Hicks and Cohen spoke again before Cohen "immediately" called AMI CEO David Pecker and spoke with AMI Chief Content Officer Dylan Howard.
That night, Howard sent Cohen a text that read, "Keith will do it," referring to Daniels' attorney Keith Davidson. Cohen texted him back at 3 AM thanking him and writing, "Resolution Consultants LLC. is the name of the entity I formed a week ago," referencing the limited liability corporation he set up to receive the payment initially.
Then, on October 25, Howard texted Cohen, "Keith calling you urgently. We have to coordinate something on the matter he's calling you about or its [sic] could look awfully bad for everyone."
Phone records show that Cohen spoke to Trump the next day twice, in one call lasting three minutes and another lasting a minute and a half. About half an hour later, according to the documents, Cohen formed another LLC, Essential Consultants, and opened an account in its name at First Republic Bank.
Later that day on October 26, Cohen got the instructions from Davidson to wire the payment to an account at City National Bank, and moved $131,000 from a home equity line of credit to Essential Consultants LLC, the affidavit said. He wired the payment the next day to Davidson's account at City National Bank.
After the wire was sent on October 27, the documents said Cohen spoke to Trump for "approximately five minutes" before making several calls to Pecker, Howard, and Davidson.
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