In 2006 Donald Trump was busy. Two women, Karen McDougal and Stephanie Clifford aka Stormey Daniels, later came forward with information about the separate affairs they had with Trump in 2006. Both women were involved in discussions about their stories with executives at the National Enquirer which was published by American Media, Inc. (AMI) and run by Trump friend and fixer David Pecker. In August 2016 Karen McDougal received a payment from AMI to keep her story quiet and in October 2016 Stormy Daniels had discussions with AMI and then received a payment from then Trump fixer Michael Cohen to keep her story quiet ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The activity related to these payments has been reviewed as part of an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and recent reports have indicated an indictment against Trump may be forthcoming. Below is a timeline of the hush money payments and highlights of the Manhattan DA investigation. Note: this piece may be revised periodically with updates and new information.
Hush Money Payment Timeline
Reported Trump affairs with Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels
Cohen helped arrange AMI payment to Karen McDougal
Michael Cohen helped arrange for National Enquirer publisher American Media, Inc. (AMI) to pay former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 to keep her story of a ten month affair with Trump in 2006 quiet. AMI, which renamed to A360 Media, LLC, and CEO David Pecker, later agreed to pay a penalty of $187,500 to the FEC for violating the Federal Campaign Act by making payments to suppress negatives stories about Trump.
Oct. 7-8, 2016
Access Hollywood recording of Trump released
Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Keith Davidson contacted AMI about her affair with Trump
Discussions with Cohen, Trump campaign and AMI/National Enquirer
After Stormy Daniels’s lawyer Keith Davidson contacted AMI, subpoenas show calls among various people including Michael Cohen, Trump, Hope Hicks and AMI CEO David Pecker and National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard.
Oct. 18-26, 2016
Cohen set up funding and created Essential Consultants LLC
Cohen missed two deadlines to pay Daniels $130,000 and called in a loan of $3.8 million he had made to French investor Christophe Escoffier through Bo and Abe Realty, a company created by Cohen with his brother and mother-in-law. Escoffier didn’t repay the loan until the end of the month. Cohen used a home equity line of credit on his Park Avenue residence and transferred funds into Essential Consultants bank account. The HELOC was later replenished with funds from Bo and Abe Realty after Escoffier repaid the loan.
Bo and Abe Realty
Oct. 27-28, 2016
Cohen made payment to Stormy Daniels
Cohen paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 and an agreement between Daniels aka Stephanie Cliffords aka “Peggy Peterson” and Donald Trump aka “David Dennison” was signed. According to Cohen after the payment was made he “called Trump to confirm that the transaction was completed, and the documentation all in place, but he didn’t take my call — obviously a very bad sign, in hindsight,” he said and instead he spoke to Kellyanne Conway who “said she’d pass along the good news.”
Nov. 8, 2016
U.S. Presidential election
Cohen sent invoice to the Trump Organization
Cohen sent an invoice to the Trump Organization for $130,000 for the Clifford payment and $50,000 for ‘tech services’.
Trump Organization significantly increased the payment to Cohen
Trump Org ”grossed up” the $180,000 invoice for tax purposes to $360,000 and added a $60,000 bonus and noted in their records to “Please pay from the Trust. Post to legal expenses.” Starting in February 2017 Cohen was paid monthly installments of $35,000.
Cohen charged and pleaded guilty to charges related to work on behalf of Trump
Cohen pleaded guilty in August 2018, to eight counts including campaign finance violations, tax fraud, and bank fraud. Cohen said he violated campaign-finance laws at the direction of Trump and “for the principal purpose of influencing” the 2016 presidential election. In November 2018, Cohen entered a second guilty plea for lying to a Senate committee about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. On December 12, 2018, he was sentenced to three years in federal prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine.
Complaint filed by Stormy Daniels against Trump
Stormy Daniels with her lawyer Michael Avenatti filed a Complaint for Declaratory Relief against Donald Trump aka. David Dennison and Essential Consultants, LLC. The lawsuit was later dismissed.
2021 – 2022
The Trump Organization indicted and convicted of tax fraud
The Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corp, which both do business as (d/b/a) The Trump Organization were indicted in 2021 on tax fraud and related counts and convicted in December 2022. The Trump Organization was ordered to pay a $1.6 million fine to the state, the largest amount allowable under New York law.
Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg charged and pleaded guilty to tax evasion
Long-time Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg was charged in 2021 and pleaded guilty in August 2022 to 15 charges related to tax evasion. Weisselberg is serving a prison sentence until April 19, 2023 and is not cooperating with prosecutors. Per Cohen he worked with Weisselberg on the arrangements to pay Clifford after Trump approved the payment.
(Note this timeline by Stefan Becket at CBS News that I found after creating the version above, which has a lot of great additional details: Timeline: Donald Trump, Stormy Daniels and the $130,000 payment to buy her silence)
Manhattan D.A. Investigation Highlights
Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg
- The investigation into hush money payments made during the end of the Trump campaign started under Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr.
- The Manhattan District Attorney implemented a grand jury in January 2023.
- Donald Trump was invited to testify before the grand jury.
- If there is an indictment it would mark the first indictment of a former American president.
Grand jury and/or Prosecutor Meetings
The following people have either met with prosecutors and/or the grand jury.
News excerpts on the legal case
- “Hush money payments aren’t illegal. Prosecutors are weighing whether to charge Trump with falsifying the business records of the Trump Organization for how it reflected the reimbursement of the payment to Cohen, who said he advanced the money to Daniels. Falsifying business records is a misdemeanor in New York.“
- “Prosecutors are also weighing whether to charge Trump with falsifying business records in the first degree for falsifying a record with the intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal another crime, which in this case could be a violation of campaign finance laws. That is a Class E felony and carries a sentence of a minimum of one year and as much as four years. To prove the case, prosecutors would need to show Trump intended to commit a crime.”
- “The Trump Organization noted the reimbursements as a legal expense in its internal books. Trump has previously denied knowledge of the payment.“
Kellyanne Conway Meets With Prosecutors as Trump Inquiry Escalates (The New York Times)
- “In Manhattan, any case would likely center on whether Mr. Trump was involved with the falsification of business records related to the payment to Ms. Daniels. When Mr. Trump repaid Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 payout to Ms. Daniels, the Trump Organization falsely recorded the reimbursements as legal expenses.“
- “It can be a crime in New York to falsify business records. But to make it a felony, Mr. Bragg’s prosecutors would have to show that Mr. Trump was involved in the falsification of the records to help commit or conceal a second crime — in this case, likely a violation of New York State election law, a legal theory that has not been tested.“
- “If Mr. Trump were ultimately convicted, he would face a maximum sentence of four years, though prison time would not be mandatory and a conviction is hardly assured. Mr. Trump’s lawyers would likely seek to undermine Mr. Cohen’s testimony, arguing that he is a convicted criminal and admitted liar who has an ax to grind against Mr. Trump.“
Prosecutors Signal Criminal Charges for Trump Are Likely (The New York Times)
- “In New York, falsifying business records can amount to a crime, albeit a misdemeanor. To elevate the crime to a felony charge, Mr. Bragg’s prosecutors must show that Mr. Trump’s “intent to defraud” included an intent to commit or conceal a second crime.”
- “In this case, that second crime could be a violation of New York State election law. While hush money is not inherently illegal, the prosecutors could argue that the $130,000 payout effectively became an improper donation to Mr. Trump’s campaign, under the theory that because the money silenced Ms. Daniels, it benefited his candidacy.”
- “Combining the criminal charge with a violation of state election law would be a novel legal theory for any criminal case, let alone one against the former president, raising the possibility that a judge or appellate court could throw it out or reduce the felony charge to a misdemeanor.”
New York prosecutors offer Trump a chance to testify before grand jury (The Washington Post)
- “If charges are brought in connection to payoffs, they would likely focus on the alleged creation of false records to conceal the nature of the funds paid to Daniels. Michael Cohen, a former Trump lawyer, has said he fronted the money involved in the transactions and was reimbursed by his then-boss. Falsifying business records is generally a misdemeanor in New York, but prosecutors can bring a felony charge if the fabrication was done to conceal or advance another crime.”
How Fox News and Murdoch helped Trump
An analysis in The Washington Post by Philip Bump, on the legal threat to Trump in New York, described how one major news outlet apparently came close to breaking the story about the Stormy Daniels affair and proposed hush-money payment before the election.
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported in 2019 that Fox News reporter Diana Falzone had confirmation of the story but that the outlet wouldn’t run it. According to Falzone, the head of FoxNews.com offered an unsubtle explanation for killing the story.
“Good reporting, kiddo,” she says Ken LaCorte told her. “But Rupert [Murdoch] wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.”