Donald Trump Jr. signed checks for hush money related to affair - Cohen

  • World
  • Wednesday, 27 Feb 2019

Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney of U.S. President Donald Trump, is sworn in to testify before a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress on Wednesday that some reimbursement checks issued to him for hush-money payments to an adult film star were signed by Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump Organization's chief financial officer.

Cohen said Donald Trump himself, while president, signed a $35,000 check while he was president to repay him for "hush money I paid on his behalf," Cohen told a House of Representatives committee.

"Other checks to reimburse me for the hush money payments were signed by Don Jr. and Allen Weisselberg," he said, referring to the president's son and the Trump Organization CFO.

Cohen's testimony raises the possibility that Donald Trump Jr. could be prosecuted for violating campaign finance laws, depending on whether he knew what the payments were intended for, said lawyer Andy Wright, who served as associate counsel to President Barack Obama.

Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for Trump Jr. and the Trump Organization, did not respond to requests for comment.

Cohen pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance violations relating to arranging payments to adult film star Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, and to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, to maintain silence about their affairs with Trump ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

On Wednesday, Cohen said Trump directed him to use his own funds from a home equity line of credit to pay Clifford to avoid any money being traced back to Trump. He said he was going to jail, in part, because of his decision "to help Mr. Trump hide that payment from the American people before they voted a few days later."

Although the checks were supposedly part of a retainer agreement, Cohen said there was no such agreement.

He said that Weisselberg knew all about the deal, while Donald Trump Jr. would have "cursory information."

At another point, he said Weisselberg's signature was on the checks with either Donald Trump Jr. or Eric Trump, another son.

When asked whether Donald Trump Jr. and Weisselberg were part of a criminal conspiracy of financial fraud directed by Trump, Cohen answered "yes." When pressed, he said he could not comment further because the matter might be part of an ongoing investigation.

Asked about Cohen's allegations of a criminal conspiracy, Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for Trump, responded: "Garbage."

Weisselberg received grand jury immunity during the Cohen prosecution, Reuters has reported, citing a person familiar with the matter. A lawyer for Weisselberg declined to comment on Cohen's testimony.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan, which prosecuted Cohen, declined to comment on whether Donald Trump Jr. could be charged with campaign finance violations.

It depends "on what Donald Trump Jr. knew about what he was paying for and when," Wright said. He added that the president's son could be an accomplice after the fact, or part of the original scheme to engage in hush-money payments.

Cornell law professor Jens David Ohlin noted it was likely the Trump Organization chief financial officer had already told prosecutors about the involvement of Donald Trump Jr.

"Weisselberg would probably be the one to say what Don Jr knew or didn't know when he was signing that check," Ohlin said.

Trump may not be prosecuted because of Justice Department policy to not indict a sitting president.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld and Nathan Layne Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu. Editing by Bernadette Baum and Sonya Hepinstall)

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