The attorney who negotiated hush-money payments in 2016 on behalf of two women who claimed to have engaged in extramarital relationships with President Donald Trump believes the president could still be in legal jeopardy for his alleged role in directing efforts to silence them, citing language prosecutors used in an indictment of his former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, last year.
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"It's clear that [federal prosecutors] alleged that [Cohen] was part of a criminal conspiracy to commit campaign finance laws," Keith Davidson, the former attorney for adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, told ABC News on an episode of "The Investigation," adding, "and by definition, a conspiracy must involve more than one person – so who else could it be?"
In court documents filed in December, U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York sought to directly connect the president to those campaign finance violations, writing that Cohen acted "in coordination with and at the direction of" then-candidate Trump. Cohen pleaded guilty in August 2018 to two counts of campaign finance violations for executing the hush-money deals, which he said he did at the president’s direction.
Davidson says he met with Manhattan-based federal prosecutors for more than 15 hours and handed over more than 1,500 documents as part of their investigation into potential campaign finance violations and the president’s inauguration committee.
"Sitting down with the Southern District for so long and the competence on that team cannot be understated," Davidson said. "I mean they are extremely efficient, bright, targeted, focused, no nonsense."
Over the course of his lengthy meeting with the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, Davidson said it “became clear” to him that prosecutors believe the payments were made in an effort to salvage Trump’s campaign for president, further enmeshing him in a possible campaign finance conspiracy.
In an interview Monday on "Good Morning America," Davidson said he believes the hush-money payments were "done for political reasons," as opposed to personal protection of his family, and claimed the release of the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape sparked the urgency behind cutting a deal with Daniels.
"They knew about [Daniels’ allegations] when he declared to become president, they knew about it when he became the Republican nominee," Davidson said. "And it wasn't until after the 'Access Hollywood' tape aired that the case ultimately settled."
Davidson represented Daniels in the deal – negotiated directly with Cohen – worth $130,000, a figure Davidson now says "would have been a hell of a lot higher" had he come up with it, and took on McDougal as a client in her dealings with American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, in what turned out to be a "catch-and-kill" deal worth $150,000.
Both Daniels and McDougal have criticized Davidson’s legal performance, leading Daniels to file a lawsuit against Davidson in June 2018, in which she called him a "puppet" for Trump. Davidson denied the charge and later filed a countersuit, which he ultimately dropped. Daniels' lawsuit has been stayed until related investigations are completed.
AMI admitted last year to paying off McDougal to "suppress the woman's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election" as part of a non-prosecution agreement.
On “The Investigation,” Davidson described a meeting with McDougal and the CEO of AMI, David Pecker – who Davidson said enjoyed a “close, personal relationship” with Trump – during which Davidson says Pecker sold McDougal on the deal by suggesting he could launch her career and promised grandeur on the scale of Kylie Jenner.
"It was an incredible meeting and there were even further promises that were made to her at that meeting,” Davidson said. "So the situation actually became worse, not better."
During the Daniels negotiation, Davidson says he grew close to Cohen. He claims the two spoke "probably 100, 200 times," and shared an unconventional bond over the nature of their business relationship.
"When you deal with the subject matters that we were dealing with – confidential matters – there's not too many people to speak with about it," Davidson said. "So because we had done this deal and spoken about confidential matters, I feel like some of the ordinary protections in human relationships sort of dissipated and there were a lot of confidences that were shared."
But Davidson says in all their discussions, one element of Cohen’s life and work remained "front and center."
"He loved his association with Donald Trump," Davidson said. "He embraced his role in Donald Trump's life as being Donald Trump's protector, and he never lacked an opportunity to remind you of that."
"The Investigation" is a podcast series offering an in-depth look at special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, analyzing the potential fallout and political consequences. Hosted by ABC News correspondent Kyra Phillips and the ABC News investigative team, led by Senior Executive Producer Chris Vlasto. "The Investigation" is available for free on Apple Podcasts (via iPhone), Google Podcasts (via Android), Spotify (via smartphone and desktop), Stitcher (via smartphone and desktop), TuneIn (via smartphone and desktop), the ABC News app (via your smartphone) or your favorite podcast player.