In First, Federal Prosecutors Tie Trump to Stormy Daniels Hush Payments

Legal experts say documents confirm prosecutors' belief of Trump's involvement in a campaign finance violation, while adding to a growing list of contacts between his campaign aides and Russians in 2015 and 2016

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen in Manhattan, New York City, November 29, 2018
\ Andrew Kelly/ REUTERS

Federal prosecutors on Friday asked a judge to sentence U.S. President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to a "substantial" prison term for paying an adult film star hush money on Trump's behalf and evading taxes, and detailed alleged lies by another former Trump aide. 

Cohen, who has been cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into possible collusion between Russia and Trump's 2016 election campaign, pleaded guilty to financial crimes in August in New York, and to a separate charge of lying to Congress in a case disclosed by Mueller last week. 

Prosecutors in both those cases were required to submit separate memos on Cohen's cooperation to U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan, who will decide Cohen's sentence on December 12.

In the memo, prosecutors said Trump directed his Cohen to make illegal hush payments to two women ahead of the 2016 election, and also detailed a previously unknown attempt by a Russian to help the Trump campaign. 

The documents turned up the heat on Trump by confirming prosecutors' belief of his involvement in a campaign finance violation, while adding to a growing list of contacts between campaign aides and Russians in 2015 and 2016, legal experts said. 

"In total, the prosecutors seem to be saying the president was more aware than he has claimed to be," former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin said. 

Prosecutors in both of the Cohen cases were required to submit separate memos on Friday on his cooperation to U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan, who will decide on the former lawyer's sentence on Dec. 12. 

While Cohen implicated the president in the hush payments to two women -- adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal -- in his guilty plea in August in New York, the filing on Friday marked the first time federal prosecutors officially concurred. 

It said Cohen made the payments in "coordination with and the direction of" Trump. 

Democrats jumped on that assertion and called for steps to protect Mueller's probe into possible collusion between Russia and Trump's presidential campaign. 

Pushing for time

Pressing the judge to reject Cohen's request he be spared prison, the New York prosecutors described Cohen in their filing as being motivated by "personal greed" and said he "repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends." 

They said Cohen should receive some credit for cooperating with Mueller but noted he had not entered into a cooperation agreement with their office. They said his sentence should reflect a "modest" reduction from the four to five years they said federal guidelines would suggest. 

Mueller said Cohen had voluntarily provided information about his own and others' conduct on "core topics under investigation" and described the information "credible and consistent with other evidence" they had obtained. 

Cohen admitted to lying to congressional investigators in an attempt to minimize his efforts to secure the Kremlin's help in 2016 for a planned Trump skyscraper in Moscow. He has said he did so to stay in sync with Trump's political messaging and consulted with the White House while preparing to testify. 

In addition to information on the Moscow tower project, Cohen also told Mueller about a conversation he had in November 2015 with a Russian national who offered the campaign "political synergy" with Russia and a meeting between Trump and Putin. Cohen did not follow up on the offer, the filing says. 

Citing Cohen's cooperation, Mueller suggested the sentence for lying to Congress run concurrently with the sentence in the New York case. 

Also on Friday, Mueller disclosed details of alleged lies told by Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, during interviews with prosecutors. Last month Mueller voided his plea agreement because, they said, he was not telling the truth. 

They said Manafort told "multiple discernible lies," including about his communications with a political consultant will alleged ties to Russian intelligence, and about interactions with Trump administration officials even after Manafort was first indicted in late 2017. 

The Mueller probe has infuriated Trump, who has regularly issued tweets criticizing the special counsel and his team. 

The president has denied any collusion between his campaign and Russia, and accuses Mueller's prosecutors of pressuring his former aides to lie about him, his election campaign and his business dealings. Russia has denied meddling. 
Friday's disclosures suggest Mueller is making progress building evidence of contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign, legal experts said. 

"Taken as a whole, the contentions ... punctuate the point that the government has a tremendous amount of information about what went on in the campaign and what went on afterward," said Mark Zauderer, a New York-based appellate lawyer. 

In new tweets on Friday, Trump accused federal investigators and senior officials of having conflicts of interest, without offering any evidence. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Friday that Cohen has "repeatedly lied" and that Manafort's case had absolutely nothing to do with the president. 

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said the disclosures should underscore the importance of the Mueller investigation. 

"These legal documents outline serious and criminal wrongdoing, including felony violations of campaign finance laws at the direction of President Trump," she said in a statement.