President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen gained access to as much as $774,000 as a result of two financial transactions spanning the 2016 presidential campaign, according to a new report by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
Citing people familiar with the matter, the WSJ says that these transactions could comprise a part of the investigation of Cohen’s business ventures currently being conducted by Manhattan federal prosecutors and the FBI, who are examining whether any laws were broken in Cohen’s attempts to raise cash and stifle negative press against his longtime client.
According to the WSJ report:
In February 2016, as Mr. Trump’s fortunes as a presidential candidate rose, Mr. Cohen nearly doubled the amount he could use on a bank credit line tied to his Manhattan apartment, increasing his ability to borrow by $245,000, according to real-estate records.
Three months earlier, he gained potential access to another $529,000, through a new mortgage that he and his wife cosigned on a condominium owned by her parents at Trump World Tower, a Trump building in New York, separate real-estate records show.
Mr. Cohen and his lead attorney didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The WSJ further elaborates that
Mr. Cohen opened a home-equity line of credit for $500,000 at First Republic Bank on Feb. 24, 2016, tied to a condominium at Trump Park Avenue in Manhattan that he and his wife own through trusts, the real-estate records show. The loan documents were signed by Mr. Cohen’s wife, Laura, as trustee for the trusts in their names that own the apartment, the records show.
A few weeks later, the Cohens closed out an old home-equity line for $255,000 with TD Bank N.A. tied to the same unit, the records show. Both First Republic and TD Bank declined to comment.
Cohen, who was responsible for $130,000 in alleged “hush money” being paid to adult film actress Stormy Daniels two weeks before the 2016 Presidential election, has explained that the payment came from his home-equity line of credit. He has also emphasized that the Trump Organization e-mail address used to arrange the payment was not an indication that Trump had been aware of the transaction.
However, as The News Blender has reported, lead counsel for President Trump’s legal defense, Rudy Giuliani, appeared to contradict that assertion in a May 2 interview with Sean Hannity, in which he stated unequivocally that Trump had fully reimbursed Cohen following the payment.
During a spate of interviews in which he sought to tamp down recent criticism from the media regarding the President, Giuliani alluded to other such payments from Cohen as well. In the same interview with Hannity, Giuliani confirmed Trump’s knowledge about “the general arrangement that Michael would take care of things like this,” adding that “I take care of things like this for my clients. I don’t burden them with every single thing that comes along. These are busy people.” The next day, Giuliani would once again refer to this arrangement in a telephone interview with The Washington Post’s Robert Acosta. While admitting that he did not know when the President learned about Cohen’s payment on his behalf, Giuliani also conceded that he was unaware whether or not the President “distinguished it from other things Cohen might have done for him during the campaign.”
The nature of these “other things” that Cohen “might have done” for Trump during the campaign is obviously of interest to investigators as well, who, according to the WSJ’s report
…are examining whether Mr. Cohen committed bank fraud by making false statements inflating the value of his assets to obtain loans or by misstating the intended purpose of the loans, these people said.
Investigators also are examining whether he violated federal election law by making unreported campaign contributions exceeding the federal limit of $5,400 to Mr. Trump in that election cycle, as well as possible other crimes stemming from his payments to cover up problems, the people said.
Cohen, who has described himself as Trump’s “family fix-it guy,” compares his role in Trump’s circles to Tom Hagen, the consigliore to Vito Corleone in the Godfather movies. “It means that if somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit,” Cohen once said in an interview with ABC News. “If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished.”
Aside from the payment to Daniels, he also oversaw a deal in late 2017 to pay $1.6 million to Shera Bechard, a former Playboy model, on behalf of Elliott Broidy, a deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee with ties to the President, according to a previous report from the Wall Street Journal. (Michael Avenatti, outspoken attorney representing Stormy Daniels, called into question this report, stating in an April 26 interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that “Mr. Broidy was not disclosed in open court as one of Michael Cohen’s clients,” further clarifying that “I think at some point we are going to find out, if in fact, the client in connection with the settlement was, in fact, Mr. Broidy. I’m going to leave it at that.”) Bechard, who claimed to have been impregnated during her affair with Broidy, declined to provide proof that the child was his, according to her contract with Broidy, and disclosed to Broidy’s camp that she had received an abortion, the WSJ reported.
Cohen’s name has surfaced amidst other stories of purchased silence in matters potentially damaging to Trump’s election bid. The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman compiled a succinct list:
- In late 2015, American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, paid a former doorman at the Trump Tower named Dino Sajudin $30,000 for exclusive rights to a story that wasn’t even his. The doorman had heard a rumor that in the 1980s, Trump had fathered a child with an employee, and in exchange for the cash, he signed an agreement not to share the story with anyone. As Farrow reports: “Two of the former AMI employees said they believed that [Trump lawyer Michael] Cohen was in close contact with AMI executives while the company’s reporters were looking into Sajudin’s story, as Cohen had been during other investigations related to Trump.” Cohen has confirmed to the Associated Press that he was indeed in communication with AMI about the Sajudin story. The Trump Organization says the story of Trump fathering a child with an employee is untrue.
- Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who says she had an extended affair with Trump in 2006, was paid $150,000 in 2016 by AMI, in a practice known as “catch and kill,” in which they pay someone for their story and have them sign an agreement not to tell anyone else about it. McDougal now alleges that her lawyer at the time was in secret communication with Cohen, effectively working not in her interests but in Trump’s.
- On Oct. 7, 2016 at 4 p.m., this newspaper broke the story of that infamous “Access Hollywood” tape. Just a half hour later, WikiLeaks released hacked emails belonging to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, which became a blockbuster story of its own. While we don’t know whether the emails were released to deflect attention from the tape, we learned yesterday that the warrant to search Cohen’s home and office specifically sought materials related to the “Access Hollywood” tape. If it was just an embarrassing story that came out, what would Cohen have to do with it?
So with this in mind, getting back to Friday’s WSJ’s report, it seems plausible that the large amount of cash to which Cohen had access during the 2016 election could have been for use in these efforts to “take care of things” for the future President. If true, it could constitute a violation of campaign finance laws. And that is just what the federal investigators involved in this case are trying to determine.
Witch hunt? You decide.