What's lurking inside the Michael Cohen probe

The news that the National Enquirer ...

Posted: Apr 13, 2018 1:26 PM
Updated: Apr 13, 2018 1:26 PM

The news that the National Enquirer allegedly paid a doorman to keep quiet about unverified rumors of a "love child" fathered by Donald Trump is just one more in a long string of bombshells directly or indirectly related to Stormy Daniels.

I've written and spoken on CNN about the interesting and unexpected ways in which the Stormy Daniels story has intersected with the seemingly unrelated Russia investigation -- specifically by providing Robert Mueller and his team leverage to get Michael Cohen, Trump's personal attorney and "fixer," to provide information pertinent to their investigation.

According to news reports Thursday, Cohen was known to tape conversations with associates. If the feds obtained relevant recordings as part of their search and seizure of evidence from Michael Cohen's home, office and hotel room, it could potentially make that leverage greater than ever.

What's now slowly coming to light as we gather more pieces of the puzzle is a coordinated pattern and practice by Trump associates to silence those with potentially embarrassing information about Trump in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election.

First there was Karen McDougal, who -- in a tearful and heartfelt interview with CNN last month -- detailed the monthslong love affair she said she had with Trump in 2006. She was allegedly paid $150,000 by the National Enquirer's parent company, American Media, for the rights to her story, which was then killed.

Then there was Stephanie Clifford -- aka Stormy -- who was paid $130,000 by Michael Cohen to sign a nondisclosure agreement, the messy details of which are currently being hashed out in federal court in California.

Now we have the most recent deal -- $30,000 to a former doorman, Dino Sajudin, allegedly paid by American Media in late 2015 -- for a story that was never published.

As I recently noted on CNN, there is nothing necessarily illegal about the so-called "catch and kill" practice employed by publishers. What could be illegal is if the catch-and-kill practice was an illicit effort to help the Trump presidential campaign, which was formally launched on June 16, 2015 .

A catch-and-kill payment of that sort could be considered an in-kind campaign contribution, well above the legal limit set by the Federal Election Commission. (The parallels between this case and 2008 presidential candidate John Edwards' payments to videographer Rielle Hunter, with whom he had a child, are hard to miss.)

The refrain out of American Media is that the reason they did not publish the "love child" story is because they did not find it credible.

Maybe. But maybe there was another obvious reason they didn't publish the story, one that could well have had a lot to do with Trump's election campaign.

Furthermore, as I've noted, Michael Avenatti, Stephanie Clifford's unrelenting attorney, said on CNN that he could "guarantee" that there will be more FBI raids associated with the Southern District of New York's inquiry into Michael Cohen (and we also know that the "Access Hollywood" tape is a topic of inquiry for the Southern District team).

So while some have rightly noted that the upshot of a violation of federal election laws could result in nothing more than a fine by the Federal Election Committee, it's entirely possible, based on the reporting available, that the Southern District of New York likely has far more damning information regarding possible corrupt practices on the part of Michael Cohen than just election law violations.

Avenatti has been extraordinarily prescient in his predictions over the course of the past several weeks -- what he says usually pans out. It sounds like he knows there is more to come regarding the SDNY's Michael Cohen investigation, and now it's becoming clear why.

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