Trump directed Michael Cohen to make illegal hush money payments, prosecutors claim

“As Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction” of Trump.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said Friday in a new court filing that Michael Cohen acted “in coordination with and at the direction of” President Donald Trump when making hush money payments to two women during the 2016 presidential election.

The statement echoes Cohen’s own admission in August, after he pleaded guilty in federal court to tax evasion, making false statements to a bank, and campaign-finance violations related to money he paid former Playboy model Karen McDougal and porn actress Stormy Daniels, two women who claimed to have affairs with Trump.

Prosecutors wrote in the initial charging documents in August that Cohen had “coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature and timing of the payments.”

Now, in the sentencing memo submitted to the court on Friday, prosecutors indicate that at least one of those members of the campaign was Trump himself, or “Individual-1” as he’s referred to in the memo. (This is also how he’s consistently referred to in court documents, including in those related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.)

This is a big deal. Prosecutors are indicating that what Cohen admitted was true — Trump did coordinate and direct the payments that constituted illegal campaign contributions.

As former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti pointed out in a series of tweets about the case, this is likely a sign that prosecutors have some level of “corroborating evidence.” In other words, authorities are not just taking Cohen at his word.

Federal prosecutors also make clear in the sentencing memo that Cohen made the payments to the women in an attempt to silence them so they would not speak about their alleged affairs with Trump and that Cohen acted with the purpose of influencing the 2016 election.

This is bad for Trump — but not as bad as it could be

This memo is part of a federal case against Cohen that is separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation; as such, there is no mention of collusion with Russia.

It’s still bad news for the president: Federal prosecutors have offered compelling evidence that Cohen, at the behest of Trump, made illegal payments to protect then-candidate Trump.

But this is not, in and of itself, evidence that Trump’s conduct itself was necessarily criminal.

As Eric Columbus, a former Justice Department official during the Obama administration, noted on Twitter, “I don’t think we know yet that prosecutors have concluded Trump violated campaign finance law, given that Trump would have to know that his conduct was illegal.”

What’s next for Trump isn’t clear. Department of Justice guidelines say a sitting president can’t be indicted — and, to be clear, the federal prosecutors in Manhattan are not arguing he should be. But Trump lied about his knowledge of the hush money payments, and this latest filing makes it hard to see otherwise.