US prosecutors destroy Donald Trump version of hush money payments to women; string of co-operation deals pose new dangers to US president

New York: Another one bites the dust. Donald Trump's legal troubles are rising at breakneck pace ahead of the Christmas holidays with the latest bombshell Wednesday coming via the Southern District of New York (SDNY) which announced it has reached a non-prosecution agreement with the tabloid company American Media, Inc. which admitted to suppressing a story about an alleged affair Trump had with former Playboy model Karen McDougal. This revelation comes on the same day Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison on charges that include campaign finance violations. It's no longer Trump's word against Cohen's; it's Trump versus everyone else.

What has the tabloid company said?
AMI, which runs the National Enquirer tabloid, admitted to making a $150,000 payment "in concert with" Trump's presidential campaign to suppress the McDougal story ahead of the 2016 presidential election. AMI’s admission adds meat to any case prosecutors make against Trump for violating campaign finance law; the publisher is acknowledging that the payments were made to conceal embarrassing information from voters. This is a story that matches Cohen's. McDougal claimed that she had an affair with Trump, a fact that could have had an impact on his electoral chances in 2016.

Donald Trump's former fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen. AP

Donald Trump's former fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen. AP

Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen has already implicated Trump in the hush-money payments and on Wednesday was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to a series of charges. Cohen and AMI executives arranged the payments, which amounted to AMI’s purchase of McDougal’s story rights to prevent other outlets from publishing those details - popularly called "catch and kill" journalism. Cohen handled the hush payments to porn star Stormy Daniels while AMI dealt with McDougal. Taken together, the Trump dirt is hitting the ceiling and this is just the beginning.

How does it all add up?
Trump is facing criminal investigations in Washington and New York. As things stand today, we have Micheal Cohen agreeing that a crime was committed; the tabloid company's admission of the same payments makes it two people saying that yes, these payments were directed by 'Individual 1' which is Donald Trump. Donald Trump first said no, this story isn't true, he's now saying it doesn't matter because it's a civil matter. Lawyers in Washington DC are saying it's not that simple at all. This isn't about Trump saying he wanted to conceal these payments from his family, it's a straightforward campaign finance crime. The parallels with Watergate are all the rage on the evening news.

What about the Russia probe?
Special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia and whether the president obstructed the investigation. The string of new revelations today ties into a separate case in New York, where prosecutors have implicated him in a crime. They say Trump directed his personal lawyer Michael Cohen to make illegal hush money payments to two women as a way to quash potential sex scandals during the 2016 campaign. After months of complete silence from prosecutors, things are moving at a scorching pace and every single thing Trump is saying to disparage the Mueller investigation is being countered by more and more co-operation or plea agreements from all flanks. Trump and many in his family are in the crosshairs. That Trump may escape indictment is a minor detail, what's clear is that the Trump presidency is horribly compromised.

White House operatives of Watergate vintage are saying now what they were holding back all these months: "Trump's goose is cooked. He should be negotiating a plea deal and get out of the White House. If the lawyer gets three years in prison, how much should the client get?" Neal Katyal, former Acting Solicitor General in the Obama government says he tells students in criminal law classes that the boss should always get a tougher sentence than those acting on their advice and so should be the case in which Cohen has implicated Trump.

Says former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams: "This is like watching a third rate mob movie. It's always the underlings who take the hit while the boss is telling them what to do".

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Updated Date: Dec 13, 2018 07:23:44 IST

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