New Charges in Stormy Daniels Hush Money Inquiry Are Unlikely, Prosecutors Signal – The New York Times

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Federal prosecutors signaled in a court document released on Thursday that it was unlikely they would file additional charges in the hush-money investigation that ensnared members of Donald J. Trump’s inner circle and threatened to derail his presidency.

In the document, the prosecutors said they had “effectively concluded” their inquiry, which centered on payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to buy the silence of two women who said they had had affairs with Mr. Trump.

The outcome appeared to be a legal victory for Mr. Trump, whom prosecutors implicated last year in directing the payments. Mr. Trump had denied the affairs and any wrongdoing, but his aides considered the inquiry a greater threat than even the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the election.

At the same time, other documents released on Thursday offered the government’s most detailed account yet of Mr. Trump’s involvement in the hush-money payments, showing he was in close touch with Michael D. Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and fixer, while the payments were being arranged. The day before paying $130,000 to Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress, in October 2016, Mr. Cohen spoke on the phone with Mr. Trump twice. Less than 30 minutes later, Mr. Cohen took steps to open a bank account to pay the woman, the documents showed.

Read About Trump’s Involvement in the Hush Money Investigation

An F.B.I. document details the president’s close contact with Michael Cohen.

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Mr. Cohen also spoke with President Trump the day after wiring the money to the woman’s lawyer, the documents said. Although it is not known what was said during the phone calls, the new disclosures seem to contradict repeated statements by Mr. Trump, and those close to him, that they were unaware that Mr. Cohen had arranged the payments.

The documents did not address what led the prosecutors with the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan to conclude their inquiry, but people briefed on the matter said that earlier this year investigators had encountered obstacles to filing additional charges.

With Mr. Trump, the prosecutors were limited by more than just a Justice Department policy that bars charging a sitting president with a federal crime, one of the people said. Prosecutors also grappled with whether they had enough evidence to show that Mr. Trump had understood campaign finance laws and had intentionally violated them.

The investigators also struggled to gain access to at least one encrypted electronic device that may have contained additional evidence, the people said. It is unclear who the device belonged to and whether the investigators ultimately reviewed its contents.

On Thursday, the prosecutors revealed for the first time that they had expanded their investigation from campaign finance violations to include whether “certain individuals” lied to investigators or tried to obstruct the inquiry.

A brief report filed by prosecutors did not identify the subjects of those investigations, although it contained redactions of what appeared to be at least one name. That investigation has also ended, prosecutors said, although they did not explicitly say that charges would not be filed.

As recently as this spring, prosecutors were still considering whether one Trump Organization executive was untruthful when testifying before the grand jury, according to people briefed on the matter.

The Trump Organization reimbursed Mr. Cohen for the hush money he paid to Ms. Daniels. Mr. Cohen also urged American Media Inc., which publishes The National Enquirer, to buy the rights to a former Playboy model’s story of an affair with Mr. Trump. Both deals effectively silenced the women in the run-up to the 2016 election.

A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment. Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said simply, “Case closed.”

Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty in the case. He has said he helped arrange the hush money at the direction of Mr. Trump, and prosecutors have since repeated the accusation in court papers. Mr. Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence.

In a statement from a federal prison in Otisville, N.Y., Mr. Cohen criticized the decision to end the inquiry.

“The conclusion of the investigation exonerating the Trump Organization’s role should be of great concern to the American people and investigated by Congress and the Department of Justice,” Mr. Cohen said.

The president’s critics in Congress, citing the new disclosures about Mr. Trump’s contact with Mr. Cohen around the time of the payments, argued that there was sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against Mr. Trump but for the Justice Department policy.

“The inescapable conclusion from all of the public materials available now is that there was ample evidence to charge Donald Trump with the same criminal election law violations for which Michael Cohen pled guilty,” Representative Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

The documents released on Thursday were related to a 2018 raid on Mr. Cohen’s home and office. The prosecutors initially had released the documents in March, with nearly every detail of the campaign finance evidence redacted.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Manhattan, William H. Pauley III, had ordered prosecutors to release the records without redactions.

The search warrant documents shed light on the breadth of evidence the prosecutors amassed against Mr. Cohen even before searching his property and interviewing a number of witnesses. The prosecutors had access to many of his text messages with American Media executives and a lawyer for the two women as well as records of his calls with Mr. Trump.

The documents detail the lengths Mr. Cohen and Trump campaign aides went — in the final stretch of the campaign — to prevent the public from learning about Ms. Daniels and Karen McDougal, the Playboy model.

Hope Hicks, who was Mr. Trump’s campaign spokeswoman and a trusted aide, had a more substantial role in discussions about the hush money payments than had been previously known.

In October 2016, in the days leading up to the payments to Ms. Daniels, Ms. Hicks took part in a series of telephone calls, text messages and email messages. They were with Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump, Ms. Daniel’s lawyer and two American Media executives — including the head of the company, David J. Pecker, Mr. Trump’s longtime friend.

“Based on the timing of these calls, and the content of the text messages and emails, I believe that at least some of these communications concerned the need to prevent Clifford from going public,” an F.B.I. agent wrote in one of the documents, using Ms. Daniels’s real name, Stephanie Clifford.

A lawyer for Ms. Hicks declined to comment.

The day after Mr. Cohen sent the $130,000 payment to the lawyer for Ms. Daniels, he spoke to Mr. Trump for about five minutes. That evening, the lawyer, Keith Davidson, texted Mr. Cohen that “all is AOK,” assuring him that Ms. Daniels would sign a nondisclosure agreement soon.

“I hope we are good,” Mr. Cohen wrote to Mr. Davidson, who responded: “I assure you. We are very good.”

In early November 2016, The Wall Street Journal reported on American Media’s arrangement with Ms. McDougal, who received $150,000 from the tabloid company. The next day, Mr. Cohen texted Ms. Hicks that the story was “Getting little to no traction.” Ms. Hicks responded, “Keep praying!! It’s working!”

Later that day, Mr. Trump spoke with Mr. Pecker, according to one of the documents. Mr. Pecker cooperated with prosecutors, earning American Media a nonprosecution agreement.

Mr. Trump won the election three days later.

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

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