NEW YORK – Donald Trump’s long-estranged former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, says Manhattan prosecutors recently took his cellphones to preserve evidence related to a hush-money payment he made to porn actress Stormy Daniels in the waning weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign.
The payment to Daniels, which Cohen says was intended to buy her silence about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump, has been the subject of law-enforcement scrutiny for years, but a new grand jury is giving it a fresh look.
Cohen said Wednesday that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office asked for the phones because it wants to extract voice recordings of conversations he had with a lawyer for Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, as well as emails and text messages.
“That way it could be used as evidence if in fact they proceed forward, which, I would suspect they are,” Cohen said in an appearance on CNN.
Cohen told the AP on Wednesday that Manhattan prosecutors investigating the payments asked him for the devices after they met with him recently to discuss the probe. Cohen said he was questioned for about 2½ hours. He is also expected to testify before the grand jury at some point.
Cohen went to prison in 2019 after pleading guilty to tax evasion, lying to Congress and campaign finance crimes. He has since finished his sentence.
The campaign finance charges were related to the payment to Daniels and a similar payout Cohen arranged to the model Karen McDougal. Both women said they had trysts with Trump during his days as a reality TV star. Trump says those stories aren't true.
Federal prosecutors said during Cohen's criminal case that Trump was aware of the payments to the women. The U.S. attorney's office in New York, however, declined at the time to seek a criminal charge against the then-sitting president.
Cohen told CNN that the material is “the same stuff” the FBI obtained from him in a raid in 2018, “but it’s new to the district attorney. They’ve seen some of it but now they’re in full possession of it.”
Bragg has empaneled a new grand jury to hear evidence about hush-money payments made to women alleging affairs with Trump, two people familiar with the investigation told the AP. The people were not authorized to speak publicly about the grand jury proceeding, which is secret, and did so on condition of anonymity.
The existence of the grand jury has been previously reported by multiple news organizations.
Trump and his lawyers have said that any payments made to the two women were legal and were personal matters, not campaign expenses.