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Report points to Donald Trump’s role in hush money payments

Indictment outlines that Donald Trump’s role in payouts to women to keep quiet about alleged affairs.

world Updated: Nov 11, 2018 00:05 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Washington
Stormy Daniels,Donald Trump,Karen McDougal
A combination photo shows adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels speaking in New York City, and US President Donald Trump speaking in Washington, Michigan, US on April 16, 2018 and April 28, 2018 respectively. (REUTERS)

US President Donald Trump played a central role in payments to two women to keep quiet about their alleged sexual encounters with him in the run-up to the 2016 election and knew of every development, contrary to earlier claims of not knowing anything about them, according to a report.

Trump personally asked David Pecker, a long-time friend and chief executive of American Media, to quash a story that former Playboy model Karen McDougal was hawking about her alleged affair with him almost a decade ago, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. She was paid $150,00 for her story, which never ran.

Later, Trump personally directed a payoff to Stormy Daniels, a porn star whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

The Journal described a meeting between Trump and Pecker in his Trump Tower office in August 2015, weeks after announcing his run for the Republican ticket for the White House. Trump had asked the publisher how he could help the campaign, and Pecker offered to use his publication, the National Enquirer, to quash claims of affairs by women. Trump took up that offer a year later.

Trump was involved in every discussion and kept track of developments through phone calls and meetings, directly or indirectly, with his personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen. The attorney for the southern district of New York, which has prosecuted Cohen for wire fraud and election finance law violations, has gathered evidence of Trump’s alleged participation in these payoffs.

Trump has denied having an affair with both women and had at first also denied any knowledge of hush money payments to them. But as the case unfolded, with Cohen fully cooperating with investigators, Trump and his lawyers have confirmed the payoffs.

He has not been named in court filings and indictments regarding the case against Cohen — who pleaded guilty to wire fraud and campaign finance law violations and is awaiting sentencing — but Trump’s alleged role has been detailed. In Cohen’s indictment, prosecutors said the former attorney “coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments”.

The unidentified campaign member is understood to be Trump.

A sitting president cannot be indicted, under current justice department guidelines, and Trump’s alleged involvement in the payments are not by themselves a crime. Wilfully skirting campaign finance laws, however, is, if it is proven.

Trump slams yet another reporter

Trump instructed journalists on Friday to show more respect in the “sacred” White House and moments later angrily refused to answer a reporter’s question because it was “stupid”.

The latest clash between the president and the press corps assigned to cover him and the White House followed a meltdown on Wednesday when Trump lashed out at a star CNN reporter as a “terrible person” and had him barred from the White House.

In Friday’s incident, Abby Phillip, also from CNN, asked Trump whether he wanted his new attorney general to hold back an explosive probe into allegations that the president’s 2016 election campaign colluded with Russian agents.

The topic has been one of the main headlines in Washington since Wednesday when Trump abruptly fired Jeff Sessions as attorney general and named Matthew Whitaker, who has strongly criticised the Russia probe, to replace him. Critics have accused Trump of placing an ally who will try to muzzle special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Trump, speaking just before leaving for a gathering in Paris to commemorate World War I, refused to answer Phillip.

“What a stupid question that is, what a stupid question. But I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid questions,” he said, shaking a finger at the journalist, then walking away.

Earlier, he defended his decision to bar CNN reporter Jim Acosta following their exchange at Wednesday’s press conference, saying that Acosta “is a very unprofessional guy”.

Asked how long Acosta will be denied permission to enter the White House, Trump said he hadn’t decided and the sanction could be applied to “other journalists”.

First Published: Nov 10, 2018 23:58 IST