2 of the most consequential figures in the Trump hush-money payoffs were given immunity by federal prosecutors

Donald Trump.

caption
Donald Trump.
source
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

  • Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg was granted immunity by federal prosecutors, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
  • That means two of the men closest to President Donald Trump’s hush-money efforts were granted immunity by federal prosecutors.
  • The other is David Pecker, the CEO of American Media Inc.

The man who for years managed President Donald Trump’s books at the Trump Organization was granted immunity by Manhattan federal prosecutors in exchange for information about Michael Cohen, the president’s former longtime lawyer, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

It means that now two of the men closest to hush-money payments to two women have received immunity in the investigation: Allen Weisselberg, the CFO of the Trump Organization, and David Pecker, the CEO of American Media Inc.

Cohen has pleaded guilty to breaking the law by helping coordinate the payments for what he says was the benefit of Trump’s presidential campaign.

Weisselberg was summoned earlier this year to testify before a grand jury in the Cohen investigation, The Journal previously reported. It was not immediately clear what he told prosecutors about the payments.

“This is huge,” said Neal Katyal, the acting solicitor general under President Barack Obama.

“I wonder if that is why there was no coop agreement w Michael Cohen,” Katyal added. “May be that, due to Weisselberg coop,” the Southern District of New York “doesn’t need one.”

The two payments under scrutiny included the purchase of the rights to the former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story of an affair with Trump by American Media Inc., which owns the National Enquirer and whose head, Pecker, is a longtime friend of Trump. AMI bought the rights to the story for $150,000 in August 2016 but never published it – that practice is known as “catch and kill.”

The second was the $130,000 hush-money payment Cohen facilitated days before the 2016 presidential election to the porn actress Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, to keep her quiet about her allegation of a 2006 affair with Trump, which he has denied.

In an information filed by prosecutors on Tuesday, when Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court to eight counts of federal felonies, including two counts related to campaign-finance violations, they laid out how executives at Trump’s business helped reimburse Cohen for “election-related expenses.” The court filing says Cohen submitted an invoice in January 2017 requesting $180,000, which included $130,000 for the payment he facilitated to Daniels and $50,000 for “tech services.”

The Trump Organization officials listed in the filings inflated that total to $420,000, prosecutors said, which would be paid to Cohen in installments of $35,000 for a monthly retainer fee throughout 2017.

The company accounted for those monthly payments as legal expenses, the court filing says.

“In truth and in fact, there was no such retainer agreement, and the monthly invoices Cohen submitted were not in connection with any legal services he had provided in 2017,” prosecutors wrote.

Though the two executives in the document were not named, many experts and observers pointed to Weisselberg as most likely one of the two.

Last month, Weisselberg found himself dragged into the Cohen saga after Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis released audio of a conversation between Cohen and Trump in September 2016. In the recording, which Cohen apparently made without Trump’s knowledge, the two men discussed buying the rights to McDougal’s story.

Cohen mentioned Weisselberg at a couple of key points during the recording, which the FBI seized in its April raids of Cohen’s home, office, and hotel room as part of the investigation.

On Thursday night, The New York Times reported that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, unconnected to the federal prosecutors investigating the payments, were weighing possible criminal charges against the Trump Organization and those two unnamed senior officials. It’s unclear whether Weisselberg’s immunity would apply to the state-level investigation.

The Weisselberg news comes a day after The Journal reported that Pecker too had received immunity with the same prosecutors. It was later revealed that Pecker kept a safe full of documents related to the stories he killed on behalf of Trump.