A letter that had been written five years ago resurfaced on Wednesday, suggesting that former lawyer for President Trump, Michael Cohen, had lied to investigators regarding a hush money payment made during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The letter, dated February 8, 2018, was penned by Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen M. Ryan, and was addressed to the Federal Election Commission regarding the payment that Cohen had made to porn actress, Stormy Daniels. Ryan claimed in the letter that Cohen had used his own funds to make a payment of $130,000 to Daniels and that neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was involved in the transaction nor did they reimburse Cohen directly or indirectly for the payment.
“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed Mr. Cohen for the payment directly or indirectly.”
Six months after the letter was written, Cohen pleaded guilty to a number of charges, including campaign finance violations connected to the payment to Daniels. Cohen has also since been disbarred and has become a key figure in the grand jury investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office into the alleged involvement of former President Donald Trump in the payment to Daniels.
Cohen informed investigators and testified before the grand jury that he made the payments on Trump’s instruction. Robert Costello, who used to advise Cohen, reportedly challenged Cohen’s credibility in court this week, stating that he had information that contradicted some of Cohen’s statements and that this “could be exculpatory for Trump.”
The letter was not presented to the grand jury on Wednesday, but it is expected to reconvene on Thursday. The contents of the letter could impact Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s decision on whether to seek an indictment given Cohen’s credibility issues, even if the grand jurors remain unaware of its contents. According to federal prosecutors, Cohen was paid $420,000 by Trump or Trump’s trust, of which $130,000 was for the payment to Daniels, and $50,000 was for digital work that Cohen had done for Trump. The remaining $240,000 was allegedly used to offset taxes, with $60,000 considered a “bonus.”
Although non-disclosure agreements are legal, the issue for Trump lies in how his company reimbursed Cohen. The payment was categorized as a legal expense, and the company claimed it was a retainer agreement with Cohen, which did not exist, and the reimbursement was not related to any legal services from Cohen. This sets up the potential for a misdemeanor criminal charge of falsifying business records, and prosecutors could raise this to a felony if they can prove that Trump’s “‘intent to defraud’ included an intent to commit or conceal a second crime.” Prosecutors argue that the second crime is that the alleged $130,000 payment was an illegal donation to the Trump campaign because it was used to stop a story to benefit his presidential campaign.
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