Federal prosecutors talked about indicting Trump in the Stormy Daniels case when he left office, the book says


Days before President Donald Trump left the White House, New York prosecutors discussed whether to charge Trump with financial crimes in his absence, according to a new book from a senior investigator. CNN official. Elie Honig.

Prosecutors from the Southern District of New York produced key evidence against Trump when they charged his former lawyer Michael Cohen in 2018 with a scheme to pay off two women who have had affairs with Trump, including adult film star Stormy Daniels, Honig writes. But prosecutors did not consider indicting Trump at the time because of longstanding Justice Department guidance that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted.

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As Trump nears leaving office in January 2021, however, Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney, has held multiple interviews with a small group of prosecutors to discuss their evidence against Trump. . They decided not to seek Trump’s impeachment for a number of reasons, Honig writes, including the political implications and the fact that other Trump scandals, such as attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and revolution of January 6, 2021, “they campaigned. financial crime seems small and outdated in comparison.”

“We knew very well the reasons why you don’t impeach the president, even after he’s out of office,” one person with knowledge of the investigation told Honig.

Honig’s book, “Untouchable,” examines how Trump and other powerful people “give it up,” focusing on the former president as well as some of Honig’s mob bosses when he was deputy attorney general. American law in New York since 2004. -2012 and federal prosecutor in New Jersey. The book was obtained by CNN ahead of its January 31st release date.

When federal prosecutors in New York chose not to pursue their case against Trump, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg appears to be reconsidering the matter. Cohen met this month with prosecutors in his office, the first such meeting in more than a year and the clearest sign yet that the Manhattan district attorney is stepping into the organization’s involvement. of Trump on short-term payments.

Honig writes that his report on Cohen’s 2018 impeachment is based on interviews with more than half a dozen people directly involved in the federal investigation. Cohen’s indictment.

Prosecutors from the Southern District of New York had prepared an indictment against Cohen that included “full details of Trump’s involvement in the hush money scheme,” according to Honig.

“Cohen’s indictment was a comprehensive report, containing more than fifty pages at a time – essentially a legal indictment of Cohen and Trump’s public discrediting, except charges filed,” Honig writes. “The SDNY’s indictment left no doubt: Trump was neither a bystander nor an unwitting beneficiary of a financial crime. He was the mastermind behind the scheme, and possibly be responsible for it.”

But nearly all information about Trump was redacted from the indictment of Justice Department leaders.

Trump was ultimately described in limited detail in the final court order upholding the charges against Cohen as “Person-1,” because he had not been charged with a crime.

Prosecutors gave “deep internal thought” to the powerful letter, Honig writes, including what he called the “nuclear option” to describe Trump as “Co-conspirator 1.”

But New York prosecutors chose not to name Trump as “co-preacher 1,” and instead called Trump “Candidate-1.” However, the Justice Department opted for “more anticipation,” according to Honig, and they landed on “Person-1.”

Cohen agreed to pay $130,000 to Daniels to prevent her from speaking publicly about her affair with Trump before the 2016 election. He also helped arrange a $150,000 payment to National Enquirer publisher Karen McDougal to kill her story that she had a 10 month affair with Trump. Trump has denied both reports.

Honig writes that when the impeachment document detailing Trump’s behavior was sent to Justice Department headquarters in Washington, it was rejected by Ed O’Callaghan, the DOJ’s deputy chief attorney.

In the DOJ’s view, Trump’s direct speech was unreasonable and threatened to tarnish the reputation of an unindicted party,” Honig writes. “It would be unfair to Trump, and it could harm the country by broad, to charge a sitting president with a crime without giving him a formal defense.”

Rob Khuzami, an assistant US attorney in New York, disagreed, arguing that the Justice Department “couldn’t and shouldn’t have hidden important information from the public about the president’s role in sitting on government debt,” Honig writes.

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Michael Cohen and Elie Honig have their thoughts on the former Trump Org CFO’s appeal

But after a series of “heated but important” discussions, Justice Department leaders held firm and New York prosecutors agreed, removing information about Trump from Cohen’s indictment.

In August 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felony counts and sued Trump while in court, admitting that, “with the cooperation and at the behest of a candidate for federal office,” he withheld information not to make it public that would have hurt Trump during the 2016. campaign.

Geoffrey Berman – who was the US attorney for the Southern District from 2018-2020, despite being charged in the Cohen case – wrote in his book “Holding the Line” last year that the DOJ went forced a rewrite of Cohen’s file to remove some. allegations, including “that Person-1 acted ‘in concert’ and ‘coordinated with’ Cohen regarding illegal campaign contributions” — though Berman noted that Cohen himself linked the allegations to Trump when testified in court.

However, in an interview last September about the release of the book, Berman suggested that prosecutors do not have the evidence to bring a successful case against Trump.

“When it comes to impeachment, you have to look at admissible evidence against someone. So we looked at the evidence against Michael Cohen and it was there and he charged, you know, no other charges that were brought because, you know, there’s no case to be brought,” Berman said on the podcast. Jon Stewart.

The tensions that Honig describes regarding the Cohen case between Justice Department officials in Washington and prosecutors in the Southern District of New York – famous for their independent streak among US attorneys – are e ‘ one of many instances where the New York office clashed with the Trump DOJ.

In 2020, former Attorney General William Barr fired Berman. Barr did not give a reason for Berman’s firing other than to say it was at Trump’s request, and it happened while Berman’s office was still in the middle of an investigation into Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

The investigation into Cohen was turned over to New York prosecutors from former special counsel Robert Mueller because it did not deal directly with Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Prosecutors knew there was a Justice Department guideline that a sitting president could not be impeached, but they conducted their own investigation to “make sure the Justice Department got it right,” Honig writes. The New York panel reached the same conclusion, also deciding that they would not indict the president “under seal” until he leaves office.

One prosecutor said, “We wouldn’t be looking to indict Trump if he was a lesser known person,” Honig writes. Others were less confident. Some felt that there was more than enough to charge, while others thought that when there was a lot of evidence, it was almost close to the limit of such a high case.

Prosecutors considered trying to strengthen their case against Cohen and briefly considered the possibility of tracking the phone calls of Trump advisers, according to Honig. They debated internally whether they should show probable cause related to the calls of Trump advisers.

“The team understood that such a call could provide evidence of conversations involving Trump himself,” according to the book. “Had it been allowed, the wiretapping would have been a historic first. No sitting president, or former president, has ever been caught talking about a court-ordered wiretapping.”

Strauss, who was then the US’s top diplomat in the southern states, quickly rejected the planned call, according to Honig, knowing that the phone call would capture the sitting president’s conversation.

Before Cohen was indicted, SDNY prosecutors met with Trump’s attorney, Joanna Hendon, who made the case that Cohen’s indictment should not include Trump, Honig writes. Khuzami assured Hendon that his office believes it will not impeach the sitting president. Hendon also argued against listing Trump in any documents as a co-conspirator because he would not be charged and thus would not have a hearing to defend himself. delete his name.

It was the same reasoning that DOJ leaders would later use to release information about Trump’s involvement in the Cohen indictment, which Honig is giving Trump double immunity from. : “We will not indict him because he is the president, and we will not name him as a co-conspirator because we will not indict him.”

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