In a normal political environment, it would be considered a career-ending scandal. Donald Trump, in the run-up to Election Day 2016, allegedly paid illegal hush money to a porn star named Stormy Daniels, in the hopes of keeping secret an alleged extra-marital affair. The Republican’s fixer, Michael Cohen, took the lead in orchestrating the illegal payment.
Cohen was ultimately charged, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to prison, even as his former client was rewarded with the presidency.
The closer one looks at the relevant details, the worse the controversy appears. Not only did Cohen directly implicate Trump in the scandal, telling a court he arranged the illegal hush-money payments at the instruction of his client, but the former president, while in office, was also caught lying about what transpired.
It’s long been an open question as to why Trump wasn’t also charged in the case. As it turns out, however, the matter might not be altogether closed. The New York Times reported:
The Manhattan district attorney’s office has moved to jump-start its criminal investigation into Donald J. Trump, according to people with knowledge of the matter.... Under the new district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, the prosecutors have returned to the long-running investigation’s original focus: a hush-money payment to a porn star who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump.
According to the Times’ reporting, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, prosecutors interested in building the hush-money case hope to pressure a top Trump lieutenant, Allen Weisselberg, into cooperating. Given his role at the Trump Organization, the Times added, Weisselberg “has direct knowledge of the hush-money payment.”
Time will tell what, if anything, comes of this line of inquiry. But given the reporting, it’s worth pausing to appreciate the extraordinary scope of the former president’s legal liabilities. As we discussed last week, the Republican is already facing an ongoing criminal investigation in Georgia over alleged election interference. The Justice Department, meanwhile, is currently scrutinizing both his alleged Jan. 6 misdeeds and his decision to take highly classified national security documents to Mar-a-Lago.
The investigation into Trump’s hush-money scandal would be his fourth ongoing criminal probe, not to be confused with earlier criminal investigations.
And did I mention that Trump’s scandalous business enterprise is also actively on trial right now in New York on fraud charges? And that his former White House chief of staff, just two weeks ago, accused him of illegally trying to weaponize the Internal Revenue Service?
As Rachel put it on the show last week, many have launched presidential campaigns, but until now, none has done so while “enveloped in a suffocating fog of scandal.”
If the Times’ latest reporting is correct, the fog is growing thicker.