Michael Cohen bought the silence of Stormy Daniels after a flurry of phone calls with Donald Trump, Hope Hicks, and executives at AMI in the heat of the 2016 election, according to newly unsealed FBI documents.
Federal prosecutors on Thursday released hundreds of pages detailing how the president’s former fixer illegally paid hush money to Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both were prepared to publicly say before Election Day that Trump had cheated on his wife with them. Instead, they were silenced through six-figure sums paid by Cohen.
A federal judge ordered the documents to be released after Manhattan federal prosecutors told a court it closed its investigation into the Trump Organization where Cohen was an executive over the illegal hush money. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to campaign-finance violations in connection with payoffs.
The Daniels’ scheme began in October 2016 when her attorney, Keith Davidson, contacted Cohen and AMI about her allegations of an affair with Trump. It came during a decisive time for Trump’s candidacy.
On Oct. 7, the Access Hollywood tape was released and exposed vile remarks Trump made about women a decade earlier.
The next day, Trump’s close personal assistant Hicks called Cohen. Sixteen seconds later, Trump and the trio spoke for approximately four minutes. As FBI agents noted, it was the first time Cohen had spoken to Hicks in weeks—and the first time he and Trump had spoken in months, a possible sign of how explosive the campaign saw Daniels’ story.
The House Judiciary Committee is reportedly investigating whether Hicks lied during testimony last month where she said she was “never present” when Cohen and Trump discussed Daniels and had “no knowledge” of Daniels during the campaign.
Hicks’ attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
After a short call between Cohen and Hicks, Cohen phoned AMI chairman David Pecker, a long-time friend of Trump and owner of the National Enquirer. Cohen spoke to Hicks again, then called Dylan Howard, AMI’s AMI chief content officer and Pecker’s lieutenant.
Then Cohen, Pecker, and Trump spoke together for nearly eight minutes.
After another call with Cohen, Howard sent him a text message: “Keith will do it. Let’s convene tomorrow.”
The following day Cohen inked a non-disclosure agreement with Davidson and Daniels, using pseudonyms in the agreement for them and for Trump.
The deal wasn’t complete though and it nearly fell apart after Cohen took time to pay up.
Cohen previously claimed that the decision to use his own money for Daniels had come about because it was “down to the wire” and Daniels was moments away from going public with her allegations. The unsealed FBI warrant offers new details into the pressure tactics used by Davidson to speed up payment.
After Daniels signed the agreement, Cohen initially tried to make good on his end of the deal by setting up an account under the name of another shell company, Resolution Consultants, but forgot to include his driver’s license and passport information in the paperwork. He then set up a different shell company, Essential Consultants. The fumbling and delays annoyed Davidson—who called Cohen to say that the delay had nullified their agreement.
That’s when Howard told Cohen he’d heard that Daniels was preparing to take her story to the Daily Mail, a British tabloid. Davidson stopped returning Cohen’s calls, and the next day a story appeared on TheSmokingGun.com alleging that Trump had had an affair with Daniels. By Oct. 25, with the pressure mounting on Cohen, both sides got back in touch and began to lay out the details for the payment, which was concluded two days later.
Trump subsequently recovered from the Access Hollywood damage and won the presidency without the public having heard from Daniels or McDougal, who Davidson also represented.
Cohen had previously arranged for AMI to buy the life rights of McDougal, who pitched the Enquirer on a story about her alleged 2006 affair with Trump. AMI bought McDougal’s story for $150,000 “at Cohen’s urging,” according to prosecutors. Instead of publishing her story, though, AMI sat on it—a practice known as “catch and kill,” that kept the story from voters before Election Day.
Two days before election, part of the secret slipped out.
On Nov. 4, the Wall Street Journal published an article exposing Cohen and AMI’s role in silencing McDougal. An hour before the story published, Howard texted Cohen, “I think it’ll be ok pal. I think it’ll fade into the distance.” Cohen responded, “He’s pissed,” apparently referring to Trump.
Howard wrote back, “I’m pissed! You’re pissed. Pecker is pissed. Keith is pissed. Not much we can do.”
Cohen quizzed Howard how the Journal could run its article if “everyone denies.” Howard replied: “Because there is the payment from AMI. It looks suspicious at best.”
When the article was published online, Hicks and Howard both sent it to Cohen. Cohen and Howard then shared a series of text messages discussing how the story played out. The next morning, Cohen texted Hicks, “So far I see only 6 stories! Getting little to no traction.”
Hicks replied, “Same. Keep praying!! It’s working!”
Cohen texted back, “Even CNN not talking about it. No one believes it and if necessary, I have a statement from Storm[y] denying everything and contradicting the other porn stars statement. I wouldn’t use it now or even discuss with him as no one is talking about it and no one cares!”
The closing of the Cohen case puts to rest what had been one of the most serious legal threats hanging over Trump: potential campaign-finance charges after he left office.
Cohen said in his guilty plea that he paid the hush money “in coordination and at the direction of Individual-1,” who is Trump. In subsequent testimony before the House Oversight Committee, Cohen produced checks from the Trump Organization signed by Trump in August 2017—while he was in the White House—to reimburse Cohen for the payments.
“We are pleased that the investigation surrounding these ridiculous campaign finance allegations is now closed,” Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, said in a statement Wednesday. “We have maintained from the outset that the president never engaged in any campaign finance violation.”
Cohen told the House Oversight Committee that Trump directed him and Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg to figure out how to pay Daniels. Cohen claimed Weisselberg had said he couldn’t use any of his own money to pay Daniels and, with a payment deadline getting “down to the wire,” Cohen said the two agreed that Cohen would pay using his own personal funds. Weisselberg also allegedly played a role in helping to reimburse Cohen for the payments.
Charges filed against Cohen in the Southern District of New York last year recounted how an “Executive-1” (Weisselberg) first received Cohen’s request that the Trump Organization reimburse him for Daniels. Weisselberg then forwarded the request to another executive with instructions to pay the invoice as a retainer for legal services.
But according to prosecutors, "there was no such retainer agreement" between Cohen and the Trump Organization and Cohen never performed legal work for the company during that time.