Friday, May 17, 2024

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A Comprehensive Timeline of Donald Trump’s Hush Money Scandal

How a $130,000 payment to an adult film star snowballed into the first criminal case against a former U.S. president.

Trump hush money trial
Photo: Gage Skidmore

The historic criminal trial of former President Donald Trump, the first of its kind for a US ex-president, began on April 15th with jury selection in New York. Trump faces charges from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office stemming from a $130,000 hush money payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign and efforts made to conceal the payment through fraud. This trial marks the first of four anticipated criminal cases against Trump, who remains the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. The charges carry significant political implications as the nation grapples with the precedent of criminally prosecuting a former commander-in-chief.

2005

Access Hollywood

Trump is recorded making vulgar remarks about women during a conversation with Billy Bush in what would later be called the “Access Hollywood” tape. While on a bus, Trump spotted an unidentified woman and began making sexually aggressive comments.

“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful women — I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” Trump said. He then boasted about his celebrity status enabling him to grope women’s genitals without consent, stating crudely “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab ’em by the pussy.”

June 2006: Karen McDougal Meets Trump

donald Trump Karen McDougall

Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, meets Trump during the filming of The Celebrity Apprentice at the Playboy Mansion, where she worked as an extra for a pool party scene. As the shoot wrapped, Trump allegedly obtains McDougal’s phone number.

The two began communicating regularly in the days following their meeting. According to McDougal, they spoke “right away on the phone…for about a week” leading up to Trump’s next trip to Los Angeles. This initial contact formed the basis of an intimate relationship that McDougal later claimed lasted nearly a year.

June 12, 2006 

McDougal claims her first intimate encounter with Trump occurs at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. She states Trump’s bodyguard escorted her to a private bungalow, where they have unprotected sex. McDougal alleges Trump attempted to pay her afterward.

June 2006-April 2007

During this time period, McDougal stated she and Trump met privately a minimum of five times per month, often more frequently. Trump coordinated the meetups, arranging for McDougal to travel and meet him across the country, both discreetly and in public settings.

July 2006: Stormy Daniels Meets Trump

Stormy Daniels
Photo: Jon Viscott

Stormy Daniels meets Donald Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe. She claims Trump invited her to his penthouse at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe for dinner, where he showed her a magazine featuring himself on the cover. A flirtatious exchange occurred, with Daniels spanking Trump with the magazine. Trump allegedly complimented Daniels, comparing her to his daughter in intelligence and beauty, and expressed interest in having her appear on his show, The Apprentice.

Daniels stated that later that night that they had consensual sex. Over the next year, Trump made phone calls to Daniels. 

2007

Michael Cohen
Photo: IowaPolitics.com

According to court documents, Michael Cohen joins the Trump Organization, a Manhattan-based real estate company owned by Donald Trump, in the roles of Executive Vice President and Special Counsel to Donald Trump.

April 2007 

McDougal ended her alleged 9-month affair with Trump, reportedly prompted by feelings of guilt and concern over her mother’s disapproval. According to McDougal’s friend Crawford, “She couldn’t look at herself in the mirror anymore… And she was concerned about what her mother thought of her.” The decision was reinforced by several disrespectful comments Trump allegedly made, angering both McDougal and her friend.

July/August 2007

At Trump’s request, Daniels met him at the Beverly Hills Hotel to discuss appearing on “The Celebrity Apprentice.” According to Daniels, Trump sought to rekindle their sexual relationship during this encounter, but she declined his advance. Approximately one month later, Trump called Daniels to inform her that he had been unable to secure her a role on the reality show.

May 2011 

Daniels agrees to sell her story about an alleged affair with Trump to Life & Style magazine, for $15,000. At the magazine’s request, Daniels, and others took polygraph exams about the claims. 

However, the story never ran. Two former employees stated that after the magazine approached Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen for comment, he threatened legal action against the publication. 

Weeks later, she says she was threatened by an unidentified man while with her infant daughter in a Las Vegas parking lot. According to Daniels, “A guy walked up on me and said to me, ‘Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.’… Then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, ‘That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.’”

March 18, 2015

Donald Trump takes a major step towards seeking the Republican presidential nomination by announcing the formation of an exploratory committee. In a statement, Trump declared, “I am the only one who can make America truly great again!”

August 2015 : Trump and Cohen Meet with David Pecker

David Pecker
David Pecker testifies during Trump’s hush money trial in Manhattan criminal court, Sketch: Elizabeth Williams/AP

Donald Trump meets with then-American Media Inc. CEO David Pecker and Michael Cohen at Trump Tower, where Pecker agrees to be the “eyes and ears” for Trump’s campaign and flag any negative stories to Trump’s then-fixer Michael Cohen, according to prosecutors.

October/November 2015 

Pecker learns that a former Trump Tower doorman is trying to sell information that Trump allegedly fathered a child out of wedlock. At Pecker’s direction, AMI negotiates and signs an agreement to pay the doorman $30,000 in exchange for acquiring exclusive rights to the story. At the direction of Pecker, AMI purchases the story without fully investigating the doorman’s claims, per his alleged arrangement with Trump. 

AMI later determined that the story was not true and wanted to release the doorman from the agreement, but Michael Cohen allegedly instructed Pecker to hold off until after the presidential election.

March 1, 2016

Donald Trump secures victories in seven of eleven states on Super Tuesday. This expanded his delegate lead over rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Trump won 254 delegates, compared to 218 for Cruz and 96 for Rubio.

Trump

June 2016 

The National Enquirer’s editor-in-chief and chief content officer contacts Cohen about a woman—believed to be Playboy model Karen McDougal—who alleges she had had a sexual relationship with Trump while he was married. Cohen is updated by the National Enquirer about this regularly over text and by phone. Trump allegedly did not want this information to become public because he was concerned what impact it may have on his campaign for president, so AMI starts negotiating to purchase her story.

July 19, 2016

Donald Trump officially secures the Republican presidential nomination after a roll call vote at the party’s national convention. Trump surpasses the required 1,237 delegate threshold despite the pockets of opposition during the state-by-state vote.

August 5, 2016

AMI agrees to pay the McDougal $150,000 in exchange for her not speaking out on the alleged sexual relationship. She would also get two magazine cover features and a series of articles published under her byline as a part of the deal. Prosecutors allege that this deal was made based on the assurance from Cohen that they would reimburse AMI for the payment. 

August 10, 2016

AMI wires $150,000 to Keith Davidson, McDougal’s attorney. 

September 2016 

An audio recording captures a conversation between Trump and Cohen as they discuss how to obtain the rights to McDougal’s story from AMI and reimburse it for the payment. Cohen tells Trump he will “open up a company” for the transfer of the woman’s account, and said he had spoken to Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg about setting it up.

Sept. 30, 2016

A shell company—called Resolution Consultants, LLC—is set up by Michael Cohen. Pecker signs an agreement transferring the rights of the McDougal’s account to the shell company owned by Cohen for $125,000. Before the reimbursement is made, Pecker consulted AMI’s general counsel and then told Cohen that the deal was off.

October 7, 2016 

Access Hollywood Washington Post

The Washington Post releases the “Access Hollywood” tape from 2005 in which Trump uses vulgar language to describe his sexual approach to women and brags about being able to get away with sexual assault because of his fame.

October 8, 2016

Hope Hicks, Donald Trump, David Pecker, and Michael Cohen exchange numerous calls throughout the day. Cohen calls Dylan Howard (Chief Content Officer of AMI) multiple times after not speaking with him for over a month. 

October 10-28, 2016: Cohen Negotiates Hush Money Payments 

The AMI editor-in-chief connects Cohen with Davidson, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer. They negotiate a deal to secure the woman’s silence where Daniels would be paid $130,000 for the rights to her story.

Trump allegedly tells Cohen to delay making a payment to Daniels for as long as possible. Trump allegedly says that if they are able to delay making the payment until after the election, they could avoid paying altogether. Prosecutors claim emails and text messages between both lawyers and the AMI editor-in-chief show they attempted to delay making the payment for as long as possible.

Ultimately, Trump agrees to the payoff and directs Cohen to proceed. Trump allegedly does not want to make the payment himself and instructed Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg to find a way to make the payment. Cohen makes the payment after confirming that Trump would pay him back.

October 26, 2016 

Shortly after speaking with Trump over the phone, Cohen opens a bank account with First Republic Bank in Manhattan in the name of a shell company he had created to facilitate the payment. Cohen then transfers $131,000 from his fraudulent personal home equity line of credit into the account.

October 27, 2016 

Keith Davidson, the attorney representing Stormy Daniels at the time, receives a wire transfer of $130,000 into his account at City National Bank in Los Angeles. This $130,000 sum is separate from the $150,000 paid to McDougal. 

October 28, 2016 

Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen sign a non-disclosure agreement. The contract pledged a payment to Daniels in exchange for her silence regarding an alleged intimate relationship with Trump. While Trump’s name did not appear on the document, a draft amendment obtained by The New York Times referred to him by the alias “David Dennison” and Daniels as “Peggy Peterson.”

November 8, 2016: Donald Trump Secures 2016 Election

2016 election

Trump secures the election to become the 45th President of the United States.

January/February 2017 

Trump arranges to reimburse Cohen for the payoff he made on his behalf shortly after being elected president. Cohen meets with Weisselberg to discuss how he would be reimbursed, with Weisselberg asking for a bank statement showing the $130,000 payment.

Weisselberg and Cohen agree to a total repayment amount of $420,000, reflecting double the $130,000 payment, a $50,000 reimbursement for another expense, and a $60,000 year-end bonus, so Cohen could characterize the payment as income on his tax returns instead of a reimbursement. 

Trump, Weisselberg, and Cohen agree Cohen would be paid the $420,000 through 12 monthly payments of $35,000 over 2017, with Cohen sending invoices to the Trump Organization falsely requesting payment for legal services rendered.

February 14, 2017 

Cohen emails the Trump Organization the first monthly invoice requesting two $35,000 payments for January and February, which were allegedly approved by Weisselberg.

Throughout 2017 Cohen submits 10 similar invoices for the remaining months, which the Trump Organization falsely recorded as “legal expenses,” according to prosecutors. The first check was paid from Trump’s trust and signed by Weisselberg and Trump’s son as trustees, falsely recorded as payments for January and February 2017 legal services. A second check for March 2017 was also paid from the trust. The remaining nine checks for April through December 2017 were paid by Trump personally, signed by him and scanned into the Trump Organization’s data system before being mailed to Cohen. 

Summer 2017 

Trump invites Pecker to the White House for dinner to thank him for his help during the campaign.

January 12, 2018

The Wall Street Journal reports that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen arranged a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to prevent her from disclosing an alleged consensual sexual encounter with Trump. Reporting revealed the non-disclosure agreement identified Daniels as “Peggy Peterson” and Trump as “David Dennison.”

April 9, 2018 

The FBI executes a search warrant on Cohen’s residences and office. Cohen speaks with Trump on the day of the FBI searches, with Trump allegedly telling him to “stay strong.”

April 21, 2018 

Trump publicly encourages Cohen not to “flip” in a series of tweets.

Mid-April 2018 

Cohen is approached by an attorney who offers to represent him in the interest of maintaining a “back channel of communication” to Trump.

July 24, 2018

CNN releases an audio recording of a conversation between President Trump and his then-lawyer Michael Cohen. In the tape, they appear to discuss a plan to purchase the story rights of Karen McDougal, who claimed to have had an affair with Trump years earlier. Notably, Cohen is heard mentioning setting up a shell company for “the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David” – an apparent coded reference to buying McDougal’s story about her relationship with Trump.

August 21, 2018 

Cohen pleads guilty in Manhattan, admitting to his role in AMI’s payoff to McDougal to influence the election, and saying he did so at Trump’s direction. Cohen also pleads guilty in connection with his payoff of Daniels, claiming it was done at Trump’s direction.

September 20, 2018 

Cohen and AMI admit guilt in connection with the payoffs made to the two women claiming Trump had extramarital relations with them. AMI entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, admitting it did not intend to publish McDougal’s story during the negotiation or acquisition, the practice known as “catch and kill.”

December 12, 2018: Michael Cohen Sentenced to Prison

A federal judge sentences Michael Cohen to three years in prison. Cohen was convicted of financial crimes and making false statements to Congress. During sentencing, Cohen apologized but stated he felt compelled to conceal the “dirty deeds” of his former client, President Trump.

August 1, 2019

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office subpoenas the Trump Organization, reviving an investigation into the company’s involvement in hush-money payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign. 

January 30, 2023

Alvin Bragg
Photo: Alvin Bragg’s campaign website

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg impanels a grand jury to examine the hush money case involving former President Donald Trump. Over the next three months, several key figures testified before the grand jury, including American Media Inc. CEO David Pecker, Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, and former White House advisers Hope Hicks and Kellyanne Conway.

March 30, 2023

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announces the indictment of former President Donald Trump on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records after a Manhattan grand jury votes to indict Trump. The charges allege Trump concealed damaging information from voters before and after the 2016 election.

April 4, 2023

Former President Donald Trump appears in a Manhattan criminal court, where he pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. In an unprecedented moment for a former U.S. president, Trump surrenders and is arrested before the arraignment hearing to formally face the charges against him.

April 6, 2023

Jim Jordan
Photo: Gage Skidmore

Jim Jordan (R-OH) attempts to interfere with New York’s ongoing criminal prosecution of Trump by issuing a subpoena to former Manhattan prosecutor Mark Pomerantz, who was involved in the prosecution. 

In response, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg accuses congressional Republicans of attempting to “undermine” his office’s criminal prosecution of former President Donald Trump through an “unprecedented campaign of harassment and intimidation.” In a sharply worded tweet, Bragg stated, “Repeated efforts to weaken state and local law enforcement actions are an abuse of power and will not deter us from our duty to uphold the law.”

April 15, 2024: Donald Trump’s Trial Begins in New York

Hope Hicks Donald Trump
Courtroom sketch by Christine Cornell

Jury selection begins in the historic criminal trial of former President Donald Trump in a Manhattan courtroom. This marks the first time a former U.S. president has faced criminal charges.