President Donald Trump and former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks were apparently part of discussions about an illegal hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, according to court records unsealed Thursday. Michael Cohen is serving three years in jail for his involvement in the scheme, which violated campaign finance laws.
The newly unredacted records document a series of phone calls between Trump, Hicks, and Cohen, on the night of October 8, 2016 — in the heat of the presidential campaign.
Moments after the three got off the phone, Cohen moved to close a deal to pay Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her silence about an affair she says that she had with Trump.
Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance violations last August over the payments to Daniels and another woman who alleges she had an affair with Trump, Karen McDougal.
At his plea hearing, Cohen said he made the payments “in coordination and at the direction of” Trump. Cohen started serving a three-year sentence in May.
“The inescapable conclusion from all of the public materials available now is that there was ample evidence to charge Donald Trump with the same criminal election law violations for which Michael Cohen pled guilty and is now serving time in prison,” House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) said in a statement. “Were [Trump] not protected by the DOJ opinion prohibiting the indictment of a sitting president, he would be criminally charged as Cohen’s co-conspirator.”
The revelations are contained in a search warrant affidavit filed by an unnamed FBI agent on April 8, 2018. U.S. District Judge William Pauley ordered it unsealed Wednesday along with a tranche of other warrant materials in the Cohen case.
“The campaign finance violations discussed in the materials are a matter of national importance,” Pauley wrote in his order unsealing the documents. “Now that the government’s investigation into those violations has concluded, it is time that every American has an opportunity to scrutinize the materials.”
Trump’s name appears in the newly unsealed documents nearly 1,000 times, while Hicks’ appears more than 150 times.
The documents do not specify what Trump, Hicks, and Cohen discussed. But they lay out a rapid succession of phone calls among Cohen, Hicks, Trump, National Inquirer publisher David Pecker and Chief Content Officer Dylan Howard, and Daniels’ attorney, Keith Davidson.
“Keith will do it,” Howard texted Cohen about an hour after Cohen’s last calls of the night with Trump and Hicks. Two days later, Howard put Cohen and Davidson in touch over text message so that they could discuss an unnamed “business opportunity.”
On October 27, 2018, according to the court records, Cohen made the payment to Daniels through her lawyer, Davidson.
Even without knowing what was said on those calls, the back-and-forth conversations raised alarms for the FBI agent filing the affidavit.
“Based on the timing of these calls, and the content of the text messages and emails, I believe that at least some of these communications concerned the need to prevent [Daniels] from going public,” the agent wrote.
Hicks told the FBI that she didn’t learn about Daniels’ allegations against Trump until that November, according to the affidavit. She reportedly made a similar claim during closed-door testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last month.
That could land her in legal jeopardy if she, Trump, and Cohen discussed the payment to Daniels a month earlier. Lying under oath — either to the FBI or to Congress — is a federal crime. Hicks has denied wrongdoing.
Trump, Cohen, and Hicks would have had a lot to talk about. Their conversations took place one day after The Washington Post revealed a 2005 recording of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, sending the campaign into crisis mode and nearly tanking Trump’s White House bid.
Less than an hour after the Post published its story, Wikileaks began publishing emails that Russian state hackers stole from the campaign of Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
This story has been updated to include a statement from Rep. Adam Schiff.