Records: Trump discussed quashing stories about affairs

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NEW YORK | Court records released Thursday show that in the days leading up to the 2016 election, President Donald Trump spoke with aides rushing to quash stories about alleged affairs he had with women.

Newly unsealed search warrants shed new light on the president’s role as his campaign scrambled to respond to media inquiries about hush-money paid to two women who said they had sex with Donald Trump before he was president.

The revelations came after federal prosecutors told U.S. District Judge William Pauley they had concluded their investigation into the hush-money payments former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen helped orchestrate to two women — porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal — who claimed they had affairs with Trump.

FILE – In this Feb. 27, 2019, file photo, Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, reads an opening statement as he testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. Search warrants unsealed Thursday, Jul 18, 2019, shed new light on the president’s role as his campaign scrambled to respond to media inquiries about hush money paid to two women who said they had affairs with him. The investigation involved payments Cohen helped orchestrate to porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Trump initially denied knowledge of the payments, but the records make clear he was aware of the frenetic efforts to keep silent both women in the days ahead of the election.

Prosecutors previously asked the records remain sealed because they were still probing the payments.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan declined to comment. But its closure of the investigation strongly suggests prosecutors will not bring criminal charges against anyone besides Cohen, who pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance violations, lying to Congress and financial crimes. He began serving a three-year prison sentence in May.

Cohen remains the only person to be charged in the scheme to protect Trump’s reputation during the 2016 presidential campaign. But prosecutors implicated Trump in court filings, saying he directed Cohen to arrange the hush-money payments. The president has denied wrongdoing.

An attorney for Cohen, Lanny Davis, has argued that others in Trump’s orbit should have been indicted, and that prosecutors owe the public an explanation for why they weren’t. Cohen in February told Congress that a Trump Organization executive, Allen Weisselberg, and Trump’s son Donald Jr. were involved in reimbursing him for one of the hush money payments.

“The Southern District of New York was disproportionate in the sentence it asked for and appears to have targeted just Michael Cohen for reasons that I can’t understand,” Davis told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this year.

The search warrants stemmed from the FBI raid last year of Cohen’s Manhattan home and office, in which agents scoured Cohen’s hotel room and safe deposit box and seized more than four million electronic and paper files, more than a dozen mobile devices and iPads, 20 external hard drives, flash drives and laptops.

Thursday’s release of documents came after Pauley granted a request by several media organizations, including The Associated Press, that the search warrant be made public due to the high public interest in the case. Pauley referred to the contents of the warrant Wednesday as “a matter of national importance.”

“Now that the government’s investigation into those violations has concluded,” he wrote, “it is time that every American has an opportunity to scrutinize the materials.”