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Manhattan D.A. Reportedly Considering Criminal Case Against Trump Organization

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Trump Tower in NYC JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office is reportedly mulling criminal charges against the Trump Organization, thanks to that $130,000 former fixer-for-the-president Michael Cohen paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign. "Two officials with knowledge of the matter" told the NY Times that the D.A.'s review remains "in its earliest stages," but would hinge on the company's categorization of the hush money as a legal expense.

In federal court on Tuesday, Cohen admitted that he had paid off Daniels (aka Stephanie Clifford) and former Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep them from going public with affairs they had with Donald Trump, potentially tanking his presidential bid. The admission came in the course of a series of guilty pleas to tax evasion, violation of campaign finance laws, and fraud. Notably, Cohen attested that he doled out the hush money at Trump's direction.

After initially denying the Daniels affair in early 2018, Cohen alleged that he'd paid her out of his own pocket and the kindness of his heart. Rudy Giuliani blew the cover on that one, though, telling Sean Hannity that Trump personally reimbursed Cohen in installments billed as legal retainer. Tape then surfaced in which Cohen and Trump can be heard discussing McDougal's money two months before the election, and post-guilty plea, Trump now contends that the payments don't break campaign finance law because he made them personally.

Yet as the Times points out, the Trump Organization classified Cohen's reimbursement as a legal expense—a series of dummy invoices for $35,000 retainer payments. "On its face, it certainly would be problematic" to classify the payoff that way, one source told the Times: If a person or the company falsified business records, they or it might be looking at misdemeanor charges. Or, if the underhanded party acted with intent to cover up a separate crime, we might be talking about a felony. It's an intriguing prospect because, while Trump has dangled the possibility of pardoning some of his minions' federal convictions, his presidential powers do not extend to state crimes.

Before your gleeful chuckle boils over into a vengeful guffaw, a reminder that all of this is tentative: The District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., is reviewing records and ruminating on the possibility of a criminal case. A few complicating factors—the Russia investigation, the New York Attorney General's campaign-related lawsuit against the Trump Foundation, and of course the federal investigation into Cohen himself—could stand in the way.

Speaking of the federal investigation, Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg has reportedly been granted immunity in the Cohen investigation.

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