Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison Wednesday morning. At the center of the charges against the president’s former lawyer-fixer were two payments made in the months leading up to the 2016 election. One was a $130,000 payment Cohen made to Stormy Daniels, with whom Trump allegedly had an affair. The other was a $150,000 payment Cohen arranged for American Media, Inc. to make to Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal so that the story of her alleged affair with Trump wouldn’t go public.
It may seem obvious that these payments — which came in August and October of 2016, respectively — transpired to ensure Trump’s alleged affairs would not affect his presidential prospects. Outside of common sense, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest this is the case. Cohen said explicitly that Trump directed him to make the payments, and the Southern District of New York agreed, noting in Cohen’s sentencing memo that the payments were made to “deceive the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.” Trump has of course denied having anything to do with any of this.
The president’s defenders have argued either that Cohen wasn’t affiliated with the campaign in an official capacity, and thus couldn’t be acting on its behalf; or that the payments were made not to influence the election but to prevent Trump’s wife, Melania, from finding out that her husband was unfaithful; or that it flat-out doesn’t matter. On Wednesday morning, the window of plausible deniability through which these theories found their way into the mouths of conservatives slammed shut. In a press release announcing Cohen’s sentencing, the SDNY disclosed that AMI paid McDougal $150,000 for the rights to her story “in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election.”
Wow — SDNY says in a press release “AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election.“ pic.twitter.com/7fu0L1njlr
— Meridith McGraw (@meridithmcgraw) December 12, 2018
AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer, admitted to the nature of the payment as part of an agreement ensuring they would not be prosecuted in connection with the campaign finance violation. In other words, AMI turned on Trump, who during the campaign argued that they should have received the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the O.J. Simpson scandal and former presidential candidate John Edwards’ affair with one of his campaign workers. At the time, Trump was attempting to discredit Ted Cruz by noting that the National Enquirer published a photo of Cruz’s father having breakfast with “Crazy Lee Harvey Oswald,” the implication being that Cruz’s father had something to do with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. “There was a picture on the front page of the National Enquirer, which does have credibility,” the president said of the publication, which has a history of buying up unflattering stories about Trump because of his relationship with AMI head David Pecker.
— Jack Bohrer (@JRBoh) August 23, 2018
Following the Enqurier’s reporting, Edwards was indicted for using campaign donations to cover up his affair.