The Manhattan district attorney’s office is considering charging the Trump Organization and two senior company officials "in connection with Michael D. Cohen’s hush money payment to an adult film actress," according to two officials with knowledge on the matter who spoke to The New York Times.
The report continues:
A state investigation would center on how the company accounted for its reimbursement to Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to the actress, Stephanie Clifford, who has said she had an affair with President Trump, the officials said.
Both officials stressed that the office’s review of the matter is in its earliest stages and prosecutors have not yet made a decision on whether to proceed.
State charges against the company or its executives could be significant because Mr. Trump has talked about pardoning some of his current or former aides who have faced federal charges. As president, he has no power to pardon people and corporate entities convicted of state crimes.
The Trump Organization's records list the reimbursement as a legal expense. Earlier this week, however, while pleading guilty to eight criminal counts––five charges of felony tax evasion, two counts of campaign finance violations, and one count of bank fraud––Cohen said that he made the payments at Trump’s behest to buy Clifford's silence and influence the election.
Federal prosecutors say the reimbursement payments "were for sham legal invoices in connection with a nonexistent retainer agreement," according to the Times.
The New York State attorney general’s office has announced it will open a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Cohen has violated state tax law. This investigation will be unrelated to the federal tax evasion charges he pleaded guilty to earlier this week. (Prosecutors said he had unlawfully avoided more than $1.4 million in federal income taxes.)
Attorney General Barbara Underwood has sought a referral from the state Department of Taxation and Finance, according to a person familiar with the matter. That referral is necessary to conduct an investigation and to prosecute any violations of state tax law.
"Such requests are rarely denied," the Times notes. "The state’s double jeopardy laws do not apply to tax crimes."
The district attorney's office has reviewed court paperwork outlining the campaign finance charges and other federal crimes to which Cohen pleaded guilty and they "provide some details about how two Trump Organization executives handled the reimbursement and recorded them as legal fees." Manhattan prosecutors are reviewing business records to determine if they were falsified and if they were, that could be charged as a low-level felony or a misdemeanor.
"It’s a misdemeanor for a person or company to make a false entry in a business record or cause one to be made, with intent to defraud," the Times observes. "It becomes a felony if it is done to commit or conceal another crime."
In an interview on “Fox & Friends" on Wednesday, President Donald Trump claimed that he knew about payments Cohen made to silence Stephanie Clifford (better known as Stormy Daniels) and Playboy model Karen McDougal but says that these payments did not come from campaign coffers and thus do not constitute a campaign finance violation.
“Later on I knew, later on,” Trump told Fox’s Ainsley Earhardt. “But you have to understand Ainsley, what he [Cohen] did, and they weren’t taken out of campaign finance. That’s a big thing, that’s a much bigger thing, “Did they come out of the campaign?” and they didn’t come out of the campaign, they came from me, and I tweeted about it. I don’t know if you know but I tweeted about the payments.”
EXCLUSIVE: President @realDonaldTrump on if he knew about the Cohen payments. See more from his interview with… https://t.co/pKZdGDjpFW— FOX & friends (@FOX & friends) 1534959080.0
Insisting once again that the payments did not “come from the campaign,” the president said that “the first question” he asked when he heard about the payments was, “Did they come out of the campaign?”
“Because that could be a little dicey,” he added, “and they didn’t come out of the campaign and that’s big,” continuing: “But they weren’t––it’s not even a campaign violation. If you look at President [Barack] Obama, he had a massive campaign violation, but he had a different attorney general and they viewed it a lot differently.”
Trump also lied from the top of the interview when he claimed he only knew about the payments Cohen made after the fact. Trump can be heard on a tape Cohen released last month discussing paying the two women off.
Since Cohen's plea, the president has criticized him while praising Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager who was found guilty on eight criminal counts by a grand jury in Virginia.
“If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.
If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1534941848.0
Trump added that he feels "very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family."
I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. “Justice” took a 12 year old tax case, among other th… https://t.co/khxrqgKvn9— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1534944089.0
All the while, he has continued to claim that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into his Russia ties is a "rigged witch hunt" and yesterday criticized his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who last year recused himself from the investigation.