The FBI believed then-candidate Donald Trump was closely involved in a scheme to hide hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claimed an affair with Trump, court documents from the closed campaign finance case against former Trump-fixer Michael Cohen show.
The documents, released Thursday, describe a “series of calls, text messages, and emails” between Cohen, Trump, Trump campaign aide Hope Hicks, Keith Davidson — an attorney for the woman, porn star Stormy Daniels — and David Pecker, an executive of the company that published the National Enquirer.
“I have learned that in the days following the Access Hollywood video, Cohen exchanged a series of calls, text messages and emails with Keith Davidson, who was then Clifford’s attorney, David Pecker and Dylan Howard of American Media, Inc. (“AMI”), the publisher of the National Enquirer, Trump, and Hope Hicks, who was then press secretary for Trump’s presidential campaign,” an FBI agent investigating the matter wrote in the released documents.
“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,” the agent said.
Daniels’ legal name is Stephanie Clifford.
The unsealed documents say Hicks called Cohen at 7:20 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2016 — the first time she had called him in weeks — and that Trump joined the call seconds later. The conversation lasted four minutes. Hicks and Cohen spoke privately after Trump left the call and, after that, Cohen phoned Pecker. Moments after that conversation ended, Cohen received a phone call from Dylan Howard, the chief content officer of American Media. After that call, Cohen rang Hicks back, ended that call, and then took another from Pecker. At 8:03 p.m., according to the unsealed court documents, Cohen called Trump. They spoke for eight minutes.
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The two would speak again on Oct. 26, the day when Cohen would wire $130,000 to an escrow account that would eventually be sent to Daniels’ attorney as payment for the agreement to secure her silence. The first call was at 8:26 a.m. for three minutes, and the second came at 8:34 a.m.
The last phone call between Trump and Cohen described in the documents took place at 11:48 a.m. on Oct. 28 and lasted about five minutes. Later that day, Cohen’s and Daniels’ attorneys confirmed that the paperwork for the agreement for Daniels’ silence was complete.
The FBI agent wrote in the document that the information came from a review of Cohen’s telephone records and under warrants to obtain Cohen’s emails. In addition, the documents say the FBI questioned Hicks about her involvement.
In a statement from jail, Cohen said, “As I stated in my open testimony, I and members of the Trump Organization were directed by Mr. Trump to handle the Stormy Daniel’ matter, including making the hush-money payment.”
“The conclusion of the investigation exonerating the Trump Organization’s role should be of great concern to the American people and investigated by Congress and the Department of Justice,” Cohen said.
He added that a statement a day earlier from Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal attorney, was “completely distorted and dishonest.”
Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, accused Sekulow of having “issued a misleading and false statement” and asked him to answer two questions.
“Is it not a fact that SDNY prosecutors found President Trump to have directly and coordinated the commission of felony involving campaign finance federal laws?” Davis wrote in a statement. “Is it not also a fact that upon his loss of purported immunity as President of the United States, he is subject to arrest, incarceration and trial for that trial?”
On Wednesday, Sekulow said, “We are pleased that the investigation surrounding these ridiculous campaign finance allegations is now closed,” adding, “We have maintained from the outset that the president never engaged in any campaign finance violation.”
The release of the previously redacted documents comes a day after the federal judge in the case disclosed that prosecutors had concluded their probe into Cohen’s campaign finance crimes and ordered the release of search warrants tied to the case.
Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, is serving a three-year prison sentence for a slew of crimes, including breaking campaign finance laws by hiding payments to two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump.
“The campaign finance violations discussed in the materials are a matter of national importance,” Judge William Pauley III said in court papers, denying the government’s request for limited redactions. “Now that the government’s investigation into those violations has concluded, it is time that every American has an opportunity to scrutinize the materials.”
Last August, Cohen admitted to making the illegal payments to the two women, identified as Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, at Trump’s behest to silence them ahead of the 2016 election.
Trump has denied the affairs.
The New York probe has long been viewed as potentially perilous for Trump and his associates. The judge’s disclosure is the clearest indication yet that federal investigators have concluded their investigation of possible campaign finance crimes involving Cohen and likely any of Trump’s other business associates or family members.
Dow falls 620 points as U.S.-China trade war escalates
The stock market fell sharply Friday, after China announced it would slap retaliatory tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods and President Donald Trump vowed to fight back.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by more than 621 points, a dip of about 2.37 percent, after a series of tit-for-tat tweets by the president that ordered American companies to find alternatives to China. The Nasdaq Composite and S&P 500 tumbled by 3 percent and 2.59 percent, respectively.
Markets had been higher earlier in the day, ahead of a speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who has been repeatedly lambasted by Trump for not lowering rates more readily. Wall Street, which has reacted with increasing volatility to any nuance in Powell’s speeches, leveled out after the chairman’s prepared remarks indicated the nation’s central bank would continue to “act as appropriate” to maintain the economic expansion.
Meanwhile Friday, Trump savaged Powell as an “enemy” who could be worse for the United States than Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“As usual, the Fed did NOTHING! It is incredible that they can ‘speak’ without knowing or asking what I am doing, which will be announced shortly,” Trump tweeted. “We have a very strong dollar and a very weak Fed. I will work ‘brilliantly’ with both, and the U.S. will do great.”
Trump added: “My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?” referring to the Chinese leader. Trump misspelled Powell’s name in an initial tweet, which he then deleted.
Starting Sept. 1, tariffs of 5 percent will be imposed upon soybeans and crude oil, with the second tranche of products taxed at 10 percent beginning Dec. 15, according to a statement from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. American cars will be taxed at 25 percent, also beginning in mid-December.
“If the U.S. obstinately clings to its own way, China has no choice but to take corresponding countermeasures,” a Ministry of Commerce spokesman warned Thursday.
Earlier this month, Trump made good on his threat to impose 10 tariffs on the remaining $300 billion of Chinese goods imported to the U.S.
The trade war between China and the U.S., the world’s two largest economies, has rocked markets across the world for the last year and a half and contributed to a global economic slowdown that some economists believe could trigger a recession.
Seth Moulton ends presidential campaign
WASHINGTON — Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., ended his 2020 presidential campaign on Friday, and announced his intention to seek a fourth House term.
“I will continue to fight for a new generation of leadership in our party and our country,” the Iraq War veteran, who failed to gain traction in a crowded presidential primary field, said in remarks to a Democratic National Committee meeting in San Francisco. “And most of all, I will be campaigning my a– off for whoever wins our nomination in 2020.”
Moulton is the third candidate to drop out of the race in the past eight days, following the exits of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who will seek a third term, and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has decided to run for the Senate. Party insiders expect the field to be culled even further in the coming weeks as poor polling and barren campaign treasuries force more candidates to assess their reasons for continuing to run.
For Moulton, the campaign had presented an opportunity to raise his profile a little bit, create a larger network of donors and — his allies clearly hope — put himself in position to possibly join the administration if a Democrat wins the presidency.
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A memo his campaign team circulated to reporters ahead of the announcement focused on his national security and foreign policy credentials, as well as his appetite for taking on President Donald Trump in those areas. Moulton’s speech to fellow Democrats on Friday hit on those themes, too.
“We have been challenging Donald Trump where he’s weakest — as commander-in-chief — and showing this country that Democrats are the party of making America strong overseas and safe here at home,” Moulton said of his campaign.
He also highlighted his efforts to bring attention to the mental health needs of veterans, which grew out of his battles with post-traumatic stress.
“For the first time in my life, I talked publicly about dealing with post-traumatic stress from my four combat tours in Iraq,” he said. “And our team put forward a plan that will end the stigma around mental health — the same stigma that kept me silent for so long, and that kept every presidential candidate before me from talking about mental health struggles themselves.”
Gay workers not covered by civil rights law, Trump admin tells Supreme Court
The Trump administration Friday filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that gay workers are not protected by federal civil rights law. The filing came exactly one week after the administration argued the same for transgender workers.
The brief was submitted in combined cases concerning Gerald Bostock, a gay man fired from his job as a child welfare services worker by Clayton County, Georgia, and the late Donald Zarda, a gay man fired from his job as a skydiving instructor by New York company Altitude Express. The Bostock and Zarda cases are two of three cases concerning LGBTQ workers’ rights that the Supreme Court is expected to hear this fall.
This latest brief, submitted by Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco and other Department of Justice attorneys, argues that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, “does not bar discrimination because of sexual orientation.”
“The ordinary meaning of ‘sex’ is biologically male or female; it does not include sexual orientation,” the brief states. “An employer thus discriminates ‘because of * * * sex’ under Title VII if it treats members of one sex worse than similarly situated members of the other sex. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, standing alone, does not satisfy that standard.”
The issue of whether “sex” discrimination in Title VII includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has caused a split in lower courts over the past several years, with some backing gay workers and others the employers who have fired them.
In addition to the Zarda and Bostock cases, the Supreme Court is set to hear R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, et al. That case concerns Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman who was fired from a Detroit funeral home after she informed her employer that she was beginning her gender transition. The Trump administration filed an amicus brief in the Stephens case Aug. 16, siding with the employer.
Prior to its amicus briefs in the Bostock, Zarda and Stephens cases, the Trump administration had already made its position clear on the scope of sex discrimination in Title VII. In July 2017, the Department of Justice submitted an amicus brief with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the Zarda case opposing the extension of Title VII discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation. And in October 2018 — prior to the Supreme Court decision to hear the Stephens case — the Justice Department filed a brief with the high court siding with the funeral home. In the Stephens case, the federal government is pitted against itself, since the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a defendant in the case.
The Supreme Court will hear the cases next term, which begins in October.
Julie Moreau contributed.
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