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Allen Weisselberg, David Pecker given immunity in Cohen, Trump probe

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Donald Trump
Donald Trump.
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  • 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 American Media Inc. CEO David
    Pecker.

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
.

That means now two of the men who are closest to hush-money
payments involving two women — Trump Organization CFO Allen
Weisselberg and American Media Inc. CEO David Pecker — received
immunity in the investigation. Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer,
has pleaded guilty to breaking the law in 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,” tweeted Neal Katyal, the
former acting solicitor general under President Barack Obama. “I
wonder if that is why there was no coop agreement w Michael
Cohen. May be that, due to Weisselberg coop,” the Southern
District of New York “doesn’t need one.”

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

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

In information filed by
prosecutors 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.” According to the court filings, 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, a monthly retainer fee
throughout 2017.

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

“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
, the Trump Organization’s chief financial
officer, as likely one of the two.

Last month, Weisselberg found himself dragged into the Cohen saga
after Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, released an audio recording
Cohen made of a conversation with 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 was
seized by the FBI in its April raids of Cohen’s home, office, and
hotel room as part of the investigation.

Thursday night,
The New York Times reported
the Manhattan District Attorney’s
office, unconnected to the federal
prosecutors probing 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 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.

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