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Weisselberg’s cooperation with the feds gives us a better sense of how Cohen broke election laws

Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg has been granted immunity in the federal investigation into Trump's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)
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When former Trump Organization employee Michael Cohen stood up in court Tuesday to plead guilty to eight felony criminal counts, he and the government prosecutors with whom he had reached a deal were vague about what had happened. Cohen, until last year a personal attorney for President Trump, told the court that he had worked with a media company to pay off a woman who alleged she’d had an affair with Trump a decade ago, but he didn’t say what that company was.

We knew the company was American Media Inc., because of Wall Street Journal reporting about that arrangement, but all parties in the courtroom were vague. So was the government’s “information” document, outlining what charges Cohen faced and how they understood his crimes to have unfolded. Anyone not named Michael Cohen had their identities obscured in that document to the point of ridiculousness. For example: Can you identify the unnamed person below?

(It is Trump.)

As the week has passed, we’ve learned more about the unnamed individuals and entities in that document, particularly as pertains to the campaign finance charges that themselves directly implicate the president. On Friday morning, The Washington Post added another name to that list: Employee-1 for the Company (the Trump Organization) was chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, whose decision to cooperate with investigators is of great import.

With the news about Weisselberg and reports from The Post and other outlets about other aspects of the story, we can identify all of the previously masked organizations and people in this section of the document save one, a person identified as “Employee-2” at the Trump Organization.

Here’s how the government’s description of the illegal activity reads once we fill in those names. (The substitutions are indicated visually.) This description, we’ll note, was confirmed as accurate by Cohen himself Tuesday.

From the government allegations

The United States Attorney further charges:

24. The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, as amended, Title 52, United States Code, Section 30101, et seq., (the “Election Act”), regulates the influence of money on politics. At all times relevant to [this document], the Election Act set forth the following limitations, prohibitions, and reporting requirements, which were applicable to MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, Donald Trump, and his campaign:

a. Individual contributions to any presidential candidate, including expenditures coordinated with a candidate or his political committee, were limited to $2,700 per election, and presidential candidates and their committees were prohibited from accepting contributions from individuals in excess of this limit.

b. Corporations were prohibited from making contributions directly to presidential candidates, including expenditures coordinated with candidates or their committees, and candidates were prohibited from accepting corporate contributions.

25. On or about June 16, 2015, Donald Trump began his presidential campaign. While MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, continued to work at the Trump Organization and did not have a formal title with the campaign, he had a campaign email address and, at various times, advised the campaign, including on matters of interest to the press, and made televised and media appearances on behalf of the campaign.

26. At all times relevant to this Information, American Media, Inc. was a media company that owns, among other things, a popular tabloid magazine (“National Enquirer“).

27. In or about August 2015, the Chairman and Chief Executive of American Media, Inc. (David Pecker) [how we know this], in coordination with MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, and one or more members of the campaign, offered to help deal with negative stories about Trump‘s relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided. Pecker agreed to keep COHEN apprised of any such negative stories.

28. Consistent with the agreement described above, AMI advised MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, of negative stories during the course of the campaign, and COHEN, with the assistance of AMI, was able to arrange for the purchase of two stories so as to suppress them and prevent them from influencing the election.

29. First, in or about June 2016, a model and actress (“Karen McDougal“) began attempting to sell her story of her alleged extramarital affair with Trump that had taken place in 2006 and 2007, knowing the story would be of considerable value because of the election. McDougal retained an attorney (“Keith Davidson“), who in turn contacted the editor-in-chief of the Enquirer (“Dylan Howard“) [how we know this], and offered to sell McDougal‘s story to the Enquirer. Pecker and Howard informed MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, of the story. At COHEN’S urging and subject to COHEN’S promise that AMI would be reimbursed, Howard ultimately began negotiating for the purchase of the story.

30. On or about August 5, 2016, AMI entered into an agreement with McDougal to acquire her “limited life rights” to the story of her relationship with “any then-married man,” in exchange for $150,000 and a commitment to feature her on two magazine covers and publish over one hundred magazine articles authored by her. Despite the cover and article features to the agreement, its principal purpose, as understood by those involved, including MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, was to suppress McDougal‘s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.

31. Between in or about late August 2016 and September 2016, MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, agreed with Pecker to assign the rights to the non-disclosure portion of AMI‘s agreement with McDougal to COHEN for $125,000. COHEN incorporated a shell entity called “Resolution Consultants LLC” for use in the transaction. Both Pecker and COHEN ultimately signed the agreement, and a consultant for AMI, using his own shell entity, provided COHEN with an invoice for the payment of $125,000. However, in or about early October 2016, after the assignment agreement was signed but before COHEN had paid the $125,000, Pecker contacted COHEN and told him, in substance, that the deal was off and that COHEN should tear up the assignment agreement. COHEN did not tear up the agreement, which was later found during a judicially authorized search of his office.

32. Second, on or about October 8, 2016, an agent for an adult film actress (“Stormy Daniels“) – informed Howard that Daniels was willing to make public statements and confirm on the record her alleged past affair with Trump. Pecker and Howard then contacted MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, and put him in touch with Davidson, who was also representing Daniels. Over the course of the next few days, COHEN negotiated a $130,000 agreement with Davidson to himself purchase Daniels‘s silence, and received a signed confidential settlement agreement and a separate side letter agreement from Davidson.

33. MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, did not immediately execute the agreement, nor did he pay Daniels. On the evening of October 25, 2016, with no deal with Daniels finalized, Davidson told Howard that Daniels was close to completing a deal with another outlet to make her story public. Howard, in turn, texted MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, that “[w]e have to coordinate something on the matter [Davidson is] calling you about or it could look awfully bad for everyone.” Pecker and Howard then called COHEN through an encrypted telephone application. COHEN agreed to make the payment, and then called Davidson to finalize the deal.

34. The next day, on October 26, 2016, MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, emailed an incorporating service to obtain the corporate formation documents for another shell corporation, Essential Consultants LLC, which COHEN had incorporated a few days prior. Later that afternoon, COHEN drew down $131,000 from the fraudulently obtained [home equity line of credit] … and requested that it be deposited into a bank account COHEN had just opened in the name of Essential Consultants. The next morning, on October 27, 2016, COHEN went to First Republic Bank [how we know this] and wired approximately $130,000 from Essential Consultants to Davidson. On the bank form to complete the wire, COHEN falsely indicated that the “purpose of wire being sent” was “retainer.” On or about November 1, 2016, COHEN received from Davidson copies of the final, signed confidential settlement agreement and side letter agreement.

35. MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, caused and made the payments described herein in order to influence the 2016 presidential election. In so doing, he coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments.

36. As a result of the payments solicited and made by MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, neither McDougal nor Daniels spoke to the press prior to the election.

37. In or about January 2017, MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, in seeking reimbursement for election-related expenses, presented executives of the Trump Organization with a copy of a bank statement from the Essential Consultants bank account, which reflected the $130,000 payment COHEN had made to the bank account of Davidson in order to keep Daniels silent in advance of the election, plus a $35 wire fee, adding, in handwriting, an additional “$50,000.” The $50,000 represented a claimed payment for “tech services,” which in fact related to work COHEN had solicited from a technology company during and in connection with the campaign. COHEN added these amounts to a sum of $180,035. After receiving this document, executives of the Trump Organization “grossed up” for tax purposes COHEN’s requested reimbursement of $180,000 to $360,000, and then added a bonus of $60,000 so that COHEN would be paid $420,000 in total. Executives of the Trump Organization also determined that the $420,000 would be paid to COHEN in monthly amounts of $35,000 over the course of twelve months, and that COHEN should send invoices for these payments.

38. On or about February 14, 2017, MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, sent an executive of the Trump Organization (“Allen Weisselberg“) the first of his monthly invoices, requesting “[p]ursuant to [a] retainer agreement, payment for services rendered for the months of January and February, 2017.” The invoice listed $35,000 for each of those two months. Weisselberg forwarded the invoice to another executive of the Trump Organization (“Executive-2”) the same day by email, and it was approved. Weisselberg forwarded that email to another employee at the Trump Organization, stating: “Please pay from the Trust. Post to legal expenses. Put ‘retainer for the months of January and February 2017’ in the description.”

39. Throughout 2017, MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, sent to one or more representatives of the Trump Organization monthly invoices, which stated, “Pursuant to the retainer agreement, kindly remit payment for services rendered for” the relevant month in 2017, and sought $35,000 per month. The Trump Organization accounted for these payments as legal expenses. In truth and in fact, there was no such retainer agreement, and the monthly invoices COHEN submitted were not in connection with any legal services he had provided in 2017.

40. During 2017, pursuant to the invoices described above, MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, received monthly $35,000 reimbursement checks, totaling $420,000.