Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are planning to launch an investigation into President Donald Trump's alleged involvement in hush-money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, two women who claim they had affairs with him, sources familiar with committee plans said Tuesday.
Trump has denied affairs with the women.
Congressional investigators had planned to take up the matter after federal prosecutors ended their investigation into the payments in July without further charges.
Trump’s former personal attorney and long-time fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and claimed Trump directed him to make the hush-money payments to Daniels. Prosecutors said in charging documents that “Individual-1,” who matched the description of Trump, directed Cohen to make the payments but did not identify the president by name. Trump has denied ordering Cohen to break the law.
Cohen originally said he made the $130,000 in payments from his home equity loan account and was later reimbursed in checks written by Trump or the Trump Organization, payments that Trump's lawyers eventually acknowledged.
"... Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election,” prosecutors wrote in a memo recommending prison time for Cohen. They continued, “Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments.”
When asked in an exclusive interview in December with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos if the president also knew it was wrong to make the payments, Cohen replied, “Of course,” adding that the purpose was to “help [Trump] and his campaign.”
The new investigation comes as committee Democrats are broadening their investigation into potential obstruction of justice and determining whether to draw up articles of impeachment against Trump.
More than 130 House Democrats now support pursuing impeachment against the president, more than half of the caucus. The committee is planning additional public hearings and witness interviews well into the fall focused on several of the episodes of possible obstruction of justice detailed in Mueller’s report, as well as other matters that could be considered impeachable offenses.
The Washington Post first reported the committee plans to investigate the circumstances around the hush-money payments.
Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York announced in December they had reached an agreement with American Media Company, Inc. (AMI), the publisher of the National Enquirer, in connection with a payment made during the campaign meant to silence a woman who claimed to have had an affair with Donald Trump in 2006.
McDougal signed a $150,000 deal with AMI in August 2016 that transferred to the company the rights to her story of an alleged 10-month romantic affair with Trump in 2006.
In July, the committee voted to approve a dozen subpoenas as part of the panel's investigation into alleged obstruction of justice and public corruption by President Trump.
Among those names considered were Daniels' former attorney Keith Davidson, longtime friend of Trump and CEO of AMI, David Pecker, and National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard. The three are expected to be subpoenaed as early as this week for testimony in October, sources said.
Pecker was granted immunity by federal prosecutors last August in exchange for information about Cohen.