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Weeks before the 2016 election, Donald Trump was personally involved in making hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen Macdougal, a new report says, refuting Trump's repeated insistence that he was unaware of the deals.

 

Citing court papers and interviews with three dozen people, The Wall Street Journal reported today that Trump "intervened directly" to cover up his sexual encounters with women.

 

Trump was "involved in or briefed on nearly every step of the agreements," the Journal reported, up to "directing deals in phone calls and meetings." In 2015 Trump asked David Pecker, the CEO of American Media and publisher of the National Enquirer, to "help" his campaign. Pecker offered to pay $150,000 to Macdougal, a former beauty queen with whom Trump had an affair, for the exclusive rights to her story (which never ran).

 

In October 2016, weeks before the election, Trump directed Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer/fixer within the Trump Organization, to wire money to Daniels to keep quiet about a sexual encounter they had in 2006, shortly after Melania Trump had given birth to the couple's son, Barron.

 

Trump might have violated federal campaign-finance laws by arranging for the payments. It is illegal for corporations to give directly to presidential candidates, either in cash or via in-kind contributions. 

 

The Journal reported on the $150,000 payment to McDougal four days before the election, but the Trump campaign denied it.

When Daniels sued to invalidate a nondisclosure agreement in January 2018, her story gained widespread media attention. In April, when asked by a reporter on Air Force One if he had directed the payment to Daniels, Trump said he knew nothing about it: "You'll have to ask Michael Cohen," he said. Trump, his advisers, and the White House have repeated the denials since.

In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to felony charges, including a campaign-finance violation, directly implicating the president. He is reportedly cooperating with Robert Mueller's Russia investigation to lessen his sentence, which is scheduled for Dec. 12.

The Journal says the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan has "gathered evidence of Trump’s participation in the transactions."