Thursday ReadsPosted: April 12, 2018
Another day, another embarrassing Trump cover-up. It turns out Trump’s buddies at The National Enquirer paid off a former doorman who claimed Trump had fathered a child with one of his employees in the late ’90s. The Enquirer then refused to publish the story.
Eight months before the company that owns the National Enquirer paid $150,000 to a former Playboy Playmate who claimed she’d had an affair with Donald Trump, the tabloid’s parent made a $30,000 payment to a less famous individual: a former doorman at one of the real estate mogul’s New York City buildings.
As it did with the ex-Playmate, the Enquirer signed the ex-doorman to a contract that effectively prevented him from going public with a juicy tale that might hurt Trump’s campaign for president….
The story of the ex-doorman, Dino Sajudin, hasn’t been told until now.
The Associated Press confirmed the details of the Enquirer’s payment through a review of a confidential contract and interviews with dozens of current and former employees of the Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc. Sajudin got $30,000 in exchange for signing over the rights, “in perpetuity,” to a rumor he’d heard about Trump’s sex life — that the president had fathered a child with an employee at Trump World Tower, a skyscraper he owns near the United Nations. The contract subjected Sajudin to a $1 million penalty if he disclosed either the rumor or the terms of the deal to anyone.
Cohen, the longtime Trump attorney, acknowledged to the AP that he had discussed Sajudin’s story with the magazine when the tabloid was working on it. He said he was acting as a Trump spokesman when he did so and denied knowing anything beforehand about the Enquirer payment to the ex-doorman.
The parallel between the ex-Playmate’s and the ex-doorman’s dealings with the Enquirer raises new questions about the roles that the Enquirer and Cohen may have played in protecting Trump’s image during a hard-fought presidential election. Prosecutors are probing whether Cohen broke banking or campaign laws in connection with AMI’s payment to McDougal and a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels that Cohen said he paid out of his own pocket.
At The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow offers many more details. The most troubling aspect of the story is that Trump’s loyal fixer Michael Cohen was involved in the Enquirer’s negotiations. Two legal opinions from the Farrow story:
Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, said of the payment to Sajudin, “As with the payment to Stormy Daniels and the McDougal matter, there’s certainly enough smoke here to merit further investigation. However, there are questions of both fact and law that would be relevant before concluding that there’s a likely campaign-finance violation.” One question would be whether the intent was to help the campaign. The timing, months after Trump announced his Presidential candidacy, could be “good circumstantial evidence” of that. Hasen added that the cases involving A.M.I. raised difficult legal questions, because media companies have various exemptions from campaign-finance law. However, he said, “If a corporation that has a press function is being used for non-press purposes to help a candidate win an election, then the press exemption would not apply to that activity.”
Stephen Braga, a white-collar-criminal-defense professor at the University of Virginia’s law school, told me that the payment had potential ramifications for ongoing criminal probes of Trump, particularly given the claims of Cohen’s involvement. “Now with this third event it looks more and more like there’s a pattern developing. That may be one of the things that the F.B.I. was trying to find evidence of with the search warrant,” he said. “The pattern seems to be ‘We use third-party intermediaries to pay off individuals with adverse information that may harm the President.’ That is just a shade away from what the special counsel will be looking for in terms of intent on the obstruction-of-justice investigation.”
The New York Times has a long article on investigators’ interest in Trump’s relationship with The National Enquirer.
President Trump has long had ties to the nation’s major media players. But his connections with the country’s largest tabloid publisher, American Media Inc., run deeper than most.
A former top executive of Mr. Trump’s casino business sits on A.M.I.’s four-member board of directors, and an adviser joined the media company after the election. The company’s chairman, David J. Pecker, is a close friend of the president’s.
And in the Trump era, A.M.I.’s flagship tabloid, The National Enquirer, has taken a decidedly political turn, regularly devoting covers to the president’s triumphs and travails with articles headlined “Trump’s Plan For World Peace!” and “Proof! FBI Plot to Impeach Trump!”
Since the early stages of his campaign in 2015, Mr. Trump, his lawyer Michael D. Cohen and Mr. Pecker have strategized about protecting him and lashing out at his political enemies.
Now the tabloid company has been drawn into a sweeping federal investigation of Mr. Cohen’s activities, including efforts to head off potentially damaging stories about Mr. Trump during his run for the White House. In one instance, The Enquirer bought but did not publish a story about an alleged extramarital relationship years earlier with the presidential candidate, an unusual decision for a scandal sheet.
The federal inquiry could pose serious legal implications for the president and his campaign committee. It also presents thorny questions about A.M.I.’s First Amendment protections, and whether its record in supporting Mr. Trump somehow opens the door to scrutiny usually reserved for political organizations.
Read the rest at the NYT.
Mike Pompeo is undergoing grilling before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee over his nomination for Secretary of State. I tried watching some of it, but I found Pompeo’s manner of speaking so annoying that I couldn’t take much of it. The man also has a permanent smirk on his face. He’s refusing to answer questions about anything to do with Trump and Russia; and when I was watching, he generally refused to answer direct questions from Democrats. A few stories on his testimony so far:
The Sacramento Bee: The Latest: Pompeo wouldn’t resign if Trump fired Mueller.
Paul Ryan announced yesterday that he plans to remain as Speaker of the House until the end of his term, but apparently Trump and his supporters want Ryan out very soon.
What we’re hearing: One source close to leadership told us: “Scuttlebutt is that Paul will have to step down from speakership soon. Members won’t follow a lame duck, he’ll have no leverage to cut deals, and the last thing they need in this environment is 6 months of palace intrigue and everyone stabbing everyone else in the back.”
There’s more at the link. A couple more stories to check out at The Daily Beast:
James Comey’s book comes out next Tuesday, and a few tidbits are beginning to leak out. Comey compared Trump to a mob boss in an interview with George Stephanopoulos that will be broadcast on Sunday. Today, The Daily Beast reveals that Comey claims John Kelly Called Trump ‘Dishonorable’ For Firing Me.
Within minutes of his firing in May, former FBI director James Comey received a call from John Kelly, then the head of the Department of Homeland Security and now the White House chief of staff.
According to Comey’s account, which is set to appear in his highly-anticipated forthcoming memoir, Kelly was “emotional” over the manner in which Comey was let go. The then-FBI Director had reportedly been in California at the time, speaking to FBI agents in Los Angeles, and only found out that he was out of a job when he saw the news break on TV.
Kelly, Comey recalls, said he was “sick” about the situation and “intended to quit” in protest. Kelly “said he didn’t want to work for dishonorable people,” referring specifically to President Donald Trump, who appeared to be upset at the FBI’s persistent investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russian officials.
According to sources, Comey writes in his book that he encouraged Kelly to remain in his post, saying “this president,” more than his predecessors, needed people of principle and integrity around him.
If Trump hears about that story, maybe he’ll dump Kelly today. We’re also waiting for news on what Trump plans to do in Syria and whether he’ll fire someone–or maybe everyone–in the Department of Justice.
You probably heard about the WaPo story last night about how Steve Bannon plans to “cripple” Mueller and his investigation. The plan is pretty ridiculous, but Trump is probably stupid enough to buy into it.
The first step, these people say, would be for Trump to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the work of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and in recent days signed off on a search warrant of Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen.
Bannon is also recommending the White House cease its cooperation with Mueller, reversing the policy of Trump’s legal team to provide information to the special counsel’s team and to allow staff members to sit for interviews.
And he is telling associates inside and outside the administration that the president should create a new legal battleground to protect himself from the investigation by asserting executive privilege — and arguing that Mueller’s interviews with White House officials over the past year should now be null and void.
This morning CNN published an account of how Republicans plan to smear Comey to offset his book tour: Exclusive: Inside the GOP plan to discredit Comey.
The battle plan against Comey, obtained by CNN, calls for branding the nation’s former top law enforcement official as “Lyin’ Comey” through a website, digital advertising and talking points to be sent to Republicans across the country before his memoir is released next week. The White House signed off on the plan, which is being overseen by the Republican National Committee.
“Comey is a liar and a leaker and his misconduct led both Republicans and Democrats to call for his firing,” Republican chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement to CNN. “If Comey wants the spotlight back on him, we’ll make sure the American people understand why he has no one but himself to blame for his complete lack of credibility.”
While it’s an open question how successful Republicans will be in making their case against Comey, given that Trump unceremoniously dismissed him last May 9, there is no doubt that many Democrats remain furious at how the former FBI director treated Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Republicans hope to remind Democrats why they disliked Comey by assailing his credibility, shining a new light on his conduct and pointing out his contradictions — or the three Cs.
An old quotation from Clinton is prominently displayed on the “Lyin’Comey” website, with Trump’s former Democratic rival saying that Comey “badly overstepped his bounds.”
I’m dithering about whether or not to read the Comey book. I guess I’ll wait and see how interesting it sounds after some reviews and interviews. Rachel Maddow said she is going to have him on her show Tuesday night; that should be interesting.
So . . . what stories are you following today?