- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The publisher of the National Enquirer admitted Wednesday that the tabloid worked with the Trump campaign to make a hush payment to Playboy model Karen McDougal, as federal prosecutors continued to amass evidence that President Trump may have committed a felony by violating campaign finance laws.

American Media Inc. said the $150,000 payment was an attempt to keep Ms. McDougal from talking about an affair she says she had with Mr. Trump in 2006, just months after he married his third wife. Mr. Trump has denied her claims.

Prosecutors announced the deal just hours after Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s longtime “fixer,” was sentenced to three years in prison for violating campaign finance laws, committing bank fraud and lying to Congress.

He has admitted to orchestrating the payments to Ms. McDougal and to paying porn actress Stormy Daniels to prevent her from coming forward during the campaign with her own claims of a 2006 sexual encounter with Mr. Trump.

Prosecutors say both women were paid to try to keep their claims from reaching voters during the campaign and, as such, the payments should have been listed as campaign contributions.

Mr. Trump has publicly explained the payment to Ms. Daniels as a personal transaction. If it is a campaign expense, he said, it’s only because Cohen bungled it.

But federal prosecutors in New York say Mr. Trump was involved in both payments. They revealed Wednesday that a Trump campaign staffer accompanied Cohen to an August 2015 meeting with David Pecker, National Enquirer publisher and longtime Trump friend, to talk about killing stories during the campaign.

AMI has been granted immunity in exchange for cooperation, and Mr. Pecker could be a key government witness given his lengthy association with Mr. Trump.

During his only public event at the White House on Wednesday, Mr. Trump did not respond to reporters’ shouted questions about the matters.

In a federal courtroom in New York, though, Cohen was eager to talk. He owned up to his crimes and said Mr. Trump was complicit.

“It is my own weakness and blind loyalty to this man that led me to pursue a path of darkness,” Cohen told the court.

Cohen, who famously vowed he would “take a bullet” for Mr. Trump, unloaded on his former boss. He said he felt a duty to cover up the president’s “dirty deeds.”

Cohen also compared his time with Mr. Trump to a “personal and mental incarceration” and said his three-year prison sentence, which will start in March, was cathartic in a way.

“History will not remember me as the villain of this story,” he said.

U.S. Judge William Pauley III of the Southern District of New York said Cohen had “lost his moral compass.”

Lanny Davis, an attorney for Cohen, hinted Wednesday that the president could take more hits once special counsel Robert Mueller wraps up his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“At the appropriate time, after Mr. Mueller completes his investigation and issues his final report, I look forward to assisting Michael to state publicly all he knows about Mr. Trump — and that includes any appropriate congressional committee interested in the search for the truth and the difference between facts and lies,” Mr. Davis said in a statement.

Cohen permanently severed all ties with Mr. Trump in August after pleading guilty to eight criminal counts. He later pleaded guilty to one count of lying to Congress, a charge brought by Mr. Mueller’s team.

The ninth charge for lying to Congress stemmed from Cohen’s statements about Mr. Trump’s plans to build a Trump Tower in Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Cohen told lawmakers that the plan was scrapped in January of that year but said he was in talks with Russian officials about the project as late as June.

Cohen will serve two months for lying to Congress and serve the sentences concurrently.

He is the fourth person to plead guilty and receive a prison sentence from charges raised by Mr. Mueller’s team. He also received the longest sentence.

Prosecutors recommended he serve four years, while Cohen asked for no prison time because of his cooperation with Mr. Mueller’s team.

“He came forward to offer evidence against the most powerful person in our country,” said defense attorney Guy Petrillo, comparing the Russian investigation to Watergate in terms of “national significance.”

Since Cohen severed ties to Mr. Trump, the president has referred to him as “weak” and “a rat.”

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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