We learned Tuesday that not only has Michael Cohen implicated President Trump in campaign finance violations, but effectively so too has the parent company for the National Enquirer, American Media Inc.
In a release about Cohen’s three-year sentence, federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York revealed that AMI has been given immunity from prosecution, just as its head, David Pecker, had previously. SDNY prosecutors also said that AMI admitted its payment to Playboy playmate Karen McDougal was “in concert with” Trump’s presidential campaign and was aimed at burying the story to help elect Trump. As Philip Bump writes, that language is clearly intended to emphasize that this was a campaign finance violation and not just a regular old hush-money payment:
As a part of the agreement, AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election. AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.
So that’s two parties who were involved in these arrangements — the McDougal one and the Stormy Daniels payment — that have implicated Trump or his campaign in a crime. That’s significant in and of itself, because it’s no longer just the word of a felon (Cohen).
But it also suggests dominoes that have yet to fall, and among those dominoes is one potentially huge one: Allen Weisselberg.
When Cohen released that tape of him and Trump talking about buying back the rights to McDougal’s story from AMI, Cohen mentioned how he had consulted with Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, about how to make it happen.
“I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David [Pecker], you know, so that — I’m going to do that right away,” Cohen said, adding, “I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with …” before being interrupted.
Cohen then invoked Weisselberg again: “So I’m all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing, which will be. …”
All of this technically came after the violations occurred, but it does suggest Weisselberg was clued in. And this week the New York Times reported that Cohen has indeed told investigators that Weisselberg was involved in both payments:
Mr. Cohen has also told the Southern District that Mr. Weisselberg, who is one of Mr. Trump’s longtime loyalists, was involved in discussions about how to pay Ms. Daniels, according to a person briefed on the matter. Mr. Cohen linked him to the deal with American Media as well.
Sent from my iPhone.
We already knew that Weisselberg had reached an immunity deal with prosecutors after being subpoenaed. That was significant, because he has worked with Trump for decades — much more extensively than Cohen ever did — and was intimately involved in Trump’s business and many other things.
But now we know that he has been implicated in what federal prosecutors have alleged was, in fact, a crime — and what two other parties involved in the transaction are spilling about and have admitted was geared toward the election.
We don’t know how much Weisselberg truly knows about all of this or whether Cohen really went into much detail with him. We do, however, know that this would seem to give prosecutors significant leverage over Weisselberg if he was involved, and his version of events better have squared with what everyone else who has talked about these transactions was saying. Weisselberg’s deal to cooperate was reportedly narrow, but these things can evolve as investigations linger and leverage changes.
As we’ve seen repeatedly in this case, most recently with AMI, just because an entity in this investigation disappears from public view for a few months doesn’t mean they have disappeared from prosecutors' radars. Nor does it mean they aren’t saying something potentially very significant.
Cohen said Tuesday before he was sentenced that he “felt it was my duty to cover up [Trump’s] dirty deeds.” We know of one dirty deed in which Cohen has implicated Weisselberg, whether Weisselberg did anything wrong or not. So how many other dirty deeds are there? And how many of them might Weisselberg be able to shed light upon?
That has been one of the quieter but more intriguing subplots of this entire investigation, and it just got more intriguing.