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Federal prosecutors have accused President Trump of committing a federal crime by directing illegal hush money to two women during the presidential election. The accusation was revealed Friday in filings made public by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York, including a damning sentencing memo for Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen, who has admitted to paying adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal during the campaign in order to prevent them from speaking to the media about their alleged affairs with Trump.
The sentencing memo was made public along with two new sentencing memos from special counsel Robert Mueller: one for Cohen and another for Trump's former campaign chair Paul Manafort. "We keep talking about whether you can indict a sitting president," says independent journalist Marcy Wheeler, editor of EmptyWheel.net. "There's still a debate about that, but, really critically, you can indict a corporation. You can indict Trump Organization."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Federal prosecutors have accused President Trump of committing a federal crime by directing illegal hush money to two women during the presidential election. The accusation was revealed Friday in filings made public by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York, including a damning sentencing memo for President Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen, who has admitted to paying the women. The memo states, quote, "With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. ... He acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1," end-quote. "Individual-1" is a reference to President Donald Trump. The payments were made to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal during the campaign in order to prevent them from speaking to the media about their alleged affairs with Trump.
AMY GOODMAN: The sentencing memo was made public Friday along with two new sentencing memos from special counsel Robert Mueller: one for Cohen and another for Trump's former campaign chair Paul Manafort.
We go now to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where we're joined by independent journalist Marcy Wheeler. She edits EmptyWheel.net and has been closely following the multiple investigations of President Trump.
Marcy, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you explain what's most significant about these filings? And just for people to understand, we're talking about filings from two different places, from the Mueller inquiry and from the U.S. court in New York, from the prosecutor's office, from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
MARCY WHEELER: Right. So, there's two sentencing memos, actually, both for Cohen -- one out of Manhattan, as you said, the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York, and one out of Mueller's office. And then, the Manafort thing is actually not a sentencing memo. It's just a memo laying out the lies he told and the reasons he -- that the government has said that he violated his plea agreement, and all of the benefits that he thought he was going to get out of that are now gone.
The news that is catching attention is what you just said, which is that in the New York sentencing memo, it makes it very clear -- doesn't accuse Trump yet, but it makes it very clear that what Cohen did in setting up these hush payments, and, importantly, getting reimbursed by Trump Organization for these hush payments, he did it with Donald Trump's knowledge and on his instructions. And there's been a -- in the right wing, they're sort of saying, "Well, this is just a minor campaign finance" -- actually, Trump this morning tweeted out and said that, as well. But what they're missing is that the language the U.S. attorney in New York uses is very clearly talking about fraud to carry out that campaign finance violation. So, for example, they point to all of the efforts Cohen and the Trump Organization used to hide the payments and to hide what they were actually for, things like the shell company that Cohen set up to carry out the payments.
And so, I would expect the next charges, the ones that might name Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator but will almost certainly name Trump Organization, because, remember, his company can be indicted, and also probably whichever one of his children is named in those filings, as well, they're going to be charged with what's called conspiracy to defraud the United States. And the argument is that any time you carry out fraud to hide the fact -- to hide stuff that prevents the government from doing regulatory work, when you do that, that's a crime in and of itself, irregardless of how serious the campaign finance violation is. So, that seems to be where they're going in New York.
There's a bunch of stuff in the other two memos that say Mueller has similar kinds of crimes coming in his investigation, as well as the conspiracy with Russia. There's still some hints that that's going to come reasonably soon, as well.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Marcy, I want to go to Democratic Congressmember Jerry Nadler, the incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee. He was interviewed on Sunday by CNN's Jake Tapper about Michael Cohen's admission that he made illegal hush money payments to two women at the direction of President Trump.
JAKE TAPPER: If it's proven, are those impeachable offenses?
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