Speed Reads

Paper Trail

Trump tried to stiff Stormy Daniels by delaying hush money payment until after election, indictment claims

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg released the 34-count indictment against former President Donald Trump on Tuesday, each count accusing him of falsifying business records "with intent to defraud and intent to commit another crime." Bragg told reporters and alleged in a separate "statement of facts" that Trump's illegally disguised 2016 hush money payments were part of a larger scheme that violated undisclosed state and federal election laws.

One challenge for Bragg will be to convince a jury that Trump authorized the payments to two women alleging extramarital affairs to influence the election, not for personal reasons. Federal prosecutors were unable to accomplish that in a similar hush money–campaign finance case against former presidential candidate John Edwards; a North Carolina jury acquitted Edwards or failed to reach a verdict on all counts, killing the case. 

Trump's team has pointed to the Edwards case and argued that the payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels was similarly "a personal expenditure, not a campaign expenditure," as lawyer Joe Tacopina argued on CNN. But "Bragg's office might be able to make a stronger case" that the Daniels payoff was to influence the election, not save Trump embarrassment or family strife, The New York Times reports

First, according to Bragg's statement of facts, Trump met with David Pecker, then the chairman of National Enquirer parent company American Media Inc., in June 2015 and asked AMI to act as his "eyes and ears" and kill any negative stories that would harm his presidential campaign. AMI intercepted three stories — including the purported affairs by Daniel and Playboy model Karen McDougalpaid off two, and handed the third to Trump's fixer Michael Cohen. After the election, Trump hosted Pecker twice "to thank him for his help during the campaign," the document alleges. 

Second, Trump only agreed to pay Daniels after his campaign was in trouble from the Access Hollywood tape in October 2016, but even then, Trump tried to get out of paying her, telling Cohen that "if they could delay the payment until after the election, they could avoid paying altogether, because at that point it would not matter if the story became public," the statement of facts lays out.

Finally, Cohen and Pecker, both of whom testified to Bragg's grand jury and could do so again at trial, admitted to federal prosecutors in 2018 that they had participated in the illegal hush money scheme to influence the election in Trump's favor. Cohen swore he did it at Trump's direction, then served time in prison. AMI was granted immunity from prosecution for cooperating with the feds.