President Donald Trump was involved in or briefed on nearly every step of the pay-offs to silence Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, two women with whom he allegedly had affairs, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
Citing “interviews with three dozen people who have direct knowledge of the events or who have been briefed on them, as well as court papers, corporate records, and other documents,” the WSJ‘s evidence runs contrary to Trump’s insistence of innocence, or at least partial innocence. Trump has continuously denied the affairs, but admitted to reimbursing his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, for the $130,000 hush payment to Daniels.
The revelations shed further light on whether or not Trump violated campaign finance laws before the 2016 presidential election.
According to the WSJ, Trump and Cohen worked closely with David Pecker, chief executive of American Media Inc., and Dylan Howard, American Media’s New York-based chief content officer, to purchase the exclusive rights to McDougal’s story, in which she claimed to have had an ongoing affair with Trump.
American Media bought McDougal’s story for $150,000 in August 2016. The deal also included two magazine covers for which she would model, and the option of publishing health and fitness columns under her name. These two additions to the story ensured Pecker that American Media’s payment would be considered a business transaction, not an illegal campaign contribution, the Journal reports.
Trump initially planned to repay American Media for the McDougal story, says the WSJ, but Pecker ordered Cohen to dispose of the repayment contract when his lawyer advised him it would undermine his statement that the purchase was solely a business transaction. Cohen kept a copy, however, which federal agents found earlier this year.
When Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, began to come forward with her story, Cohen asked American Media to again purchase exclusive rights. Pecker reportedly refused because he was unwilling to pay a porn star, forcing Cohen and Trump to handle the payment themselves.
According to the WSJ, Cohen searched for a way to make the $130,000 payment that could not be traced to Trump, but as Daniels threatened to go public, he was forced to make the payment with personal funds. Trump reimbursed Cohen (with an additional bonus) via monthly installments disguised as legal fees.
Trump’s relationship with Pecker and Howard reportedly continued up until the story of Daniel’s payment became public. American Media turned on Cohen, and Cohen eventually turned on Trump, leading to the Manhattan federal prosecutor’s investigation of potential campaign finance law violations by Trump Organization.