As President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday by a federal judge, prosecutors in New York revealed that the publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid, American Media Inc., had admitted paying $150,000 to a former Playboy model, in order to insure that her story of an affair with Mr. Trump would not become public before the 2016 election.
"AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election," the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York stated.
The feds made clear the financial transaction was completed for only one reason:
"AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election," read the "Statement of Admitted Facts" agreed to by the feds and AMI.
The candidate involved in the story was President Trump - the person helping negotiate the deal was Cohen, and the head of AMI was Trump ally, David Pecker.
In the 'Admitted Facts' laid out on Wednesday, Pecker acknowledged having a meeting around August of 2015 with Cohen - and one unidentified member of the Trump campaign - in which "Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate's relationships with women, by among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided."
That's what happened with the case of Karen McDougal, a Playboy model who has claimed she had an affair with the President. In June 2016, McDougal thought she was selling the rights to her story to be published in the National Enquirer - instead, AMI was looking out for the President.
"Following the interview, AMI communicated to Cohen that it would acquire the story to prevent its publication," the feds stipulated about AMI's role.
The U.S. Attorney's office announced that officials had agreed not to prosecute AMI for that $150,000 transaction on behalf of Cohen and President Trump, even though it amounted to a violation of federal campaign finance laws.
Pecker's role in the McDougal story did not end with the $150,000 payment, as in the late stages of the 2016 campaign, Cohen moved to buy the 'limited life rights' to the McDougal story from AMI for $125,000.
But in October of 2016, Pecker backed off - even after signing an agreement with Cohen which utilized a fake payment explanation through a shell company set up by the President's personal lawyer.
"At no time did AMI report to the Federal Election Commission that it had made the $150,000 payment to the model," prosecutors wrote, saying that "AMI knew that corporations such as AMI are subject to federal campaign finance laws."
In other words - the feds saw this hush money transaction as a contribution to President Trump's campaign - by keeping the women's story out of the headlines.
Reporters immediately went back to 2016 to dig up denials by AMI that it had been involved in these kinds of actions.
The process is known as "catch and kill" - and was documented just before the election by the Wall Street Journal, and then in recent months by the New Yorker magazine.
It was not immediately clear if AMI - and Pecker - were in a position to offer other important information to investigators about President Trump and/or his campaign.
"The writing's on the wall," said Rep. Denny Heck (D-NV) of the President's legal situation on CNN. "The walls are closing in."