Michael Cohen Files Implicate Trump, Hope Hicks and David Pecker

MANHATTAN (CN) – Three years after the “Access Hollywood” tapes shot waves of panic through the Trump campaign and the publishers of the National Enquirer, hundreds of pages of new search warrant materials unsealed on Thursday catalog the cover-up that ensued.

“Access Hollywood” reporter Billy Bush, “Apprentice” host Donald Trump, and actress Arianne Zucker, in a 2005 hot mic recording released on Oct. 7, 2016. (Screen grab via YouTube of Access Hollywood tape)

The 895-page trove shows that Cohen exchanged a “series of calls, text messages and emails” with Trump; his then-press secretary Hope Hicks; the National Enquirer’s publisher David Pecker and editor Dylan Howard; and Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Keith Davidson.

Hicks hadn’t contacted Cohen for “at least multiple weeks,” according to the warrants. After the video’s release on Oct. 7, 2016, however, phone records showed them in constant communication.

“Keith will do it,” Cohen texted Howard, referring to Daniels’ attorney, on Oct. 8. “Let’s reconvene tomorrow.”

Two days later, Howard fired off a text to Cohen and Davidson.

“Keith/Michael: connecting you both in regards to that business opportunity,” Howard wrote, as shown in the warrants. “Spoke to the client this AM and they’re confirmed to proceed with the opportunity.”

Cohen eventually pleaded guilty to that “business opportunity,” a series of hush-money payments to silence alleged affairs with two women. Prosecutors called it an “Illegal Campaign Contribution Scheme.”

For the Trump campaign, the threat did not end with Daniels. Former Playboy model Karen McDougal had a similar story that The Wall Street Journal prepared to expose on Nov. 4, 2016, just days before the presidential election.

“We just need her to disappear,” Howard, the editor of The Enquirer, said of McDougal to Cohen, according to the warrants.

Authorities believe the situation also irritated Cohen’s boss.

“He’s pissed,” Cohen said, in what authorities described as a reference to Trump.

“I’m pissed!” the reply from Howard says. “You’re pissed. Pecker is pissed. Keith is pissed. Not much we can do.”

The warrants show Cohen texted Pecker later that evening: “The boss just tried calling you. Are you free?”

Details of the communications sharply undermine the denials of Trump and Hicks regarding the campaign-finance violations that sent Cohen to federal prison for three years.

Cohen released a statement through his publicist bemoaning that he was the only one to pay the price.

“I and members of The Trump Organization were directed by Mr. Trump to handle the Stormy Daniels matter, including making the hush money payment,” Cohen said. “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.”

In detailing Cohen’s illegal hush-money payments to two women, the unsealed pages dispense with the veiling of “Individual-1” used in previous releases to shield Trump’s name from court records. 

“As set forth below, there is probable cause to believe that Cohen made an excessive in-kind contribution to the presidential election campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump in the form of a $130,000 payment to Stephanie Clifford, an individual who was rumored to have had an extramarital affair with Trump, in exchange for her agreement not to disclose the alleged affair,” the document states.

Michael Cohen leaves his Manhattan apartment building to head to Otisville prison in Upstate New York on May 6, 2019, to serve a three-year term. (AP photo/Kevin Hagen)

U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III ordered the release of the information a day earlier, rejecting the government’s request to protect the privacy interests of third parties.

“The campaign finance violations discussed in the materials are a matter of national importance,” Pauley wrote. “Now that the government’s investigation into those violations has concluded, it is time that every American has an opportunity to scrutinize the materials.”

The government’s letter with the redactions request also hit the docket today.

In a footnote, prosecutors shielded the name of the targets of one investigation for campaign-finance violations and another for false statements. Shortly after Cohen’s guilty plea last year, it was revealed that Pecker and The Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., had entered into a nonprosecution agreement with the Justice Department.

In March, the government released a trove of hundreds of meticulously documented pages of search warrant materials used to justify the judicially authorized raids of Cohen’s home, office and hotel suite in April 2018. That previous release revealed that the FBI found probable cause to suspect Cohen as an agent for a foreign government.

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