Detailed Chronology in Trump-Cohen Hush Money Investigation
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is nearing what could be the first criminal indictment of a former U.S. president in history. In what may be the initial shoe to drop in a possible ongoing larger financial investigation, Bragg has zeroed in on a set of activities that occurred in the course of the 2016 presidential campaign. The DA is reportedly assessing the criminal violations that may have occurred when Trump’s team paid two women to stay silent about alleged affairs with the then-presidential candidate. We have constructed a chronology of events involving these alleged “hush money payments.”
We rely upon court filings, contemporaneous media reports, and extracts from a Pulitzer Prize-winning team’s account of the events, The Fixers. Key individuals include Trump’s former lawyer and personal “fixer,” Michael Cohen; the former Chairman and CEO of American Media Inc., David Pecker; the two women paid to remain silent, Stephanie Clifford (aka “Stormy Daniels”) and Karen McDougal. Many of the individuals involved have reportedly appeared before Bragg’s grand jury this year, as noted in the latter portion of the chronology. Their involvement in the ongoing proceedings suggests that an eventual Trump indictment may track the events described herein, lending this work further significance.
We will continue monitoring the Manhattan investigation as it unfolds and update this chronology accordingly.
Beginning around 2004: Former American Media Inc. (“AMI”) employees claim that the company and its publications routinely turned away stories and tips that could paint Donald Trump in a bad light. AMI CEO David Pecker had a strong friendship with Trump throughout this period, attending Trump’s wedding to Melania in 2005 (AP; The Wall Street Journal; The New Yorker; see also Michael Cohen congressional testimony, “these catch and kill scenarios existed between David Pecker and Mr. Trump long before I started working for him in 2007”).
2005: While in conversation with Billy Bush, an anchor at the time for Access Hollywood, Trump identified a “young woman through a bus window” and began making lewd, sexually aggressive remarks. Bush recorded Trump’s comments on a hot mic: “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful women — I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab ’em by the pussy” (NBC News).
June 2006: Karen McDougal met Trump while The Celebrity Apprentice was being filmed at the Playboy mansion. McDougal had been hired to work as an extra at a pool party scene. At the end of the night, Trump reportedly asked McDougal for her phone number. They talked “right away on the phone… for about a week before [Trump’s] next visit to [Los Angeles]” (CNN; The New Yorker).
June 12, 2006: According to McDougal, she and Trump went on their first “date” at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. McDougal claims that Trump’s bodyguard brought her to a bungalow in the back of the hotel, where she and Trump were “intimate.” Trump reportedly tried to pay McDougal afterward. By McDougal’s account, she and Trump then began an extended affair, meeting up in Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe, and even his New York apartment in Trump Tower (NPR; POLITICO).
July 2006: Stephanie Clifford (aka “Stormy Daniels”) met Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe. Clifford claims that the two had sex in Trump’s hotel room. At dinner, Trump reportedly told Clifford that he could “make [her appearing on The Apprentice] happen” (CBS; The Fixers, p. 72).
- McDougal claims that she also attended the Lake Tahoe golf tournament and had sex with Trump (The New Yorker).
2007: Michael Cohen entered into employment as “an attorney and employee of a Manhattan-based real estate company,” the Trump Organization, under the titles “Executive Vice President” and “Special Counsel” to Trump (Cohen Criminal Information, p. 1).
January 2007: According to McDougal, she attended a launch party for Trump Vodka in Los Angeles and sat at a table with “Kim Kardashian, Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Trump, Jr.’s wife, Vanessa, who was pregnant.” At another point (no date specified in source), McDougal claims she worked as a costumed Playboy bunny at a party hosted by Trump and took pictures together with him and his family (The New Yorker).
April 2007: After nine months, McDougal reportedly ended her relationship with Trump. A friend of McDougal’s later claimed that “the breakup was prompted in part by McDougal’s feelings of guilt” (The New Yorker).
Throughout 2007: According to a lawsuit Clifford filed against Trump in March 2018, their “intimate relationship” lasted “well into the year 2007” and “‘included, among other things, at least one ‘meeting’ with Mr. Trump’ at the Beverly Hills Hotel” (The Washington Post).
July 2007: Trump asked Clifford to meet with him “privately at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.” Clifford later claimed that “they did not have sex, but he wanted to” (PBS).
August 2007: Trump reportedly called Clifford to tell her that he “[was not] able to get her a spot” on The Apprentice. According to Clifford, they did not meet again (PBS).
2009 or 2010: Clifford and Trump had their last conversation, by Clifford’s account. According to Clifford, Trump called her after she appeared on television “and was like, ‘Hey, I just saw you on CNN’ or Fox or something… ‘You looked great. I love how you give it to ‘em’” (The Washington Post).
May 2011: Clifford “agreed to tell her story to a sister publication of In Touch magazine [Life & Style] for $15,000.” At the magazine’s request, she and other witnesses reportedly took and passed polygraph exams about her alleged affair with Trump. Two employees of the magazine at the time later claimed that “the story never ran because after the magazine called Mr. Trump seeking comment, his attorney Michael Cohen threatened to sue.” Clifford has also claimed that she was never paid (60 Minutes; The Fixers, p. 121).
May 2011: Weeks after the In Touch story was squashed, Clifford alleges she “was threatened by a man who approached her in Las Vegas.” Clifford claims that the man came up to her and said, “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story,” before looking at her daughter and saying, “That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom” (60 Minutes; CBS).
October 2011: TheDirty.com, a gossip site, published rumors about an extramarital affair between Clifford and Trump in July 2006 (Cohen Warrant, p. 39).
October 11, 2011: Clifford’s attorney, Keith Davidson, “sent a cease and desist letter to TheDirty.com” and demanded that the site remove the article about Trump and Clifford (Cohen Warrant, p. 39).
October 12, 2011: Cohen denied the rumors about Trump and Clifford’s affair. He stated to E! News that, “[t]he totally untrue and ridiculous story… emanated from a sleazy and disgusting website… The Trump Organization and Donald J. Trump will be bringing a lawsuit… Trump and the Trump Organization would like to thank and commend Stormy Daniels and her attorneys for their honest and swift actions” (Cohen Warrant, p. 39).
March 18, 2015: Trump announced plans to form a presidential exploratory committee in advance of the 2016 election (POLITICO).
June 16, 2015: Trump announced his bid for the presidency at his New York tower. At this time, Cohen “continued to work at the Company [the Trump Organization] and did not have a formal title with the campaign.” However, Cohen still “had a campaign email address and, at various times, advised the campaign, including on matters of interest to the press, and made televised and media appearances on behalf of the campaign” (The Guardian; Cohen Criminal Information, pp. 11-12).
In or around August 2015: In a meeting reportedly arranged by Cohen, Pecker met with Cohen and “at least one other member of the campaign” (identified as “Individual-1, namely, Trump himself). Pecker offered to “help deal with negative stories” about Trump’s relationships with women by “among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.” During the meeting, Pecker also committed to “keep Cohen apprised of any such negative stories ” (AMI Non-Prosecution Agreement, p. 4; Cohen Criminal Information, p. 12; Cohen Sentencing Memo, p. 12; The Fixers, pp. ix-xi, 317; The Wall Street Journal; CNN).
February 1, 2016: Trump finished second in the Iowa caucuses, losing the first Republican state nominating contest to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) (Reuters).
March 1, 2016: Trump won seven of the eleven “Super Tuesday” states in the Republican primary (Reuters).
April 2016: Clifford and her agent, Gina Rodriguez, attempted to sell Clifford’s story to media outlets for the second time. On April 7, after receiving rejections from other publications, Rodriguez reached out to her friend Dylan Howard, who was then AMI’s chief content officer. Howard reportedly rejected the story for the same reason the others had: Clifford had previously publicly denied her involvement with Trump, calling affair rumors “bullshit” after the story surfaced in 2011 (The Fixers, pp. 123, 163).
May 7, 2016: Carrie Stevens (a fellow former Playboy model and former friend of McDougal) tweeted, “I usually don’t get involved in politics but why Bill Clinton can’t [sic] get an extramarital BJ but @RealDonaldTrump can?” Soon after, Stevens sent another tweet with the hashtag “donaldlovesplaymates” and McDougal’s Twitter handle. At that point, McDougal reportedly realized that the story of her affair would likely become public as Trump’s presidential campaign continued and decided to meet with an attorney. She met with Keith Davidson, who was also (separately) representing Clifford at the time, in the hopes of asserting “control of the narrative.” According to their retainer agreement, Davidson was contracted to assist McDougal with selling her story about her “interactions with Donald Trump” and any “confidentiality agreements” arising out of it (The Fixers, pp. 162–163; Cohen Criminal Information, pp. 12-13).
June 15, 2016: Davidson contacted Howard and attempted to sell McDougal’s story to The National Enquirer, an AMI publication. In accordance with their August 2015 agreement, Pecker and Howard called Cohen and alerted him to the story’s existence. Howard then “began negotiating for the purchase of the story” at “Cohen’s urging and subject to Cohen’s promise that AMI would be reimbursed” (AMI Non-Prosecution Agreement, p. 4; Cohen Criminal Information, pp. 12-13; The Fixers, p. 164).
June 20, 2016: Howard reportedly arranged a meeting in Los Angeles with McDougal, Davidson, and two of McDougal’s contacts, John Crawford and Jay Grdina. Howard interviewed McDougal about the alleged affair with Trump, but he “sensed her reluctance to come forward.” At one point, McDougal reportedly said, “I don’t want to be the next Monica Lewinsky.” McDougal had brought notes with dates and phone numbers related to the alleged affair, but Howard reportedly claimed that the story needed additional documentation to be worth more than $15,000. McDougal then “suggested that she might have some corroborating materials in a storage locker. She promised to look for them” (AMI Non-Prosecution Agreement, p. 4; The Fixers, p. 164).
June 20, 2016: Following the interview, Howard reportedly told Davidson he would update him on whether AMI intended to buy McDougal’s story by the end of the day. Davidson agreed to refrain from “shopping McDougal’s information to another outlet” in the meantime. After he left Davidson’s office, Howard joined “a three-way call with Pecker and Cohen.” The group reportedly agreed that AMI would not offer McDougal a deal yet (The Fixers, pp. 164–165).
Sometime between June 20 and June 27, 2016: Cohen reportedly informed Trump of McDougal’s meeting with Howard (The Fixers, p. 165).
June 27, 2016: Trump reportedly called Pecker to ask whether he could bury McDougal’s story (The Fixers, p. 166).
July 7, 2016: The lead investigative producer for ABC News, Rhonda Schwartz, reportedly met with McDougal, Davidson, and Grdina at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for an all-day interview (The Fixers, p. 166).
Over several weeks following July 7, 2016: McDougal and Schwartz reportedly continued to meet. During this time, “ABC News entered into a confidentiality agreement with Davidson that barred the outlet from publicizing any of the information McDougal provided, unless or until she agreed to do the interview” (The Fixers, p. 166).
Sometime after July 7, 2016: Davidson, likely hoping to secure a better deal for McDougal than the unpaid arrangement with ABC News, reportedly alerted Howard to a (phony) ABC News plan to air an interview with McDougal on primetime television. Sources claim that Howard passed the information along to Pecker, who alerted Cohen, who informed Trump (The Fixers, pp. 167–168).
July 19, 2016: Trump won the official GOP presidential nomination with 1,237 delegates (NBC News).
July 29, 2016: Howard reportedly extended a loose offer to Davidson for McDougal’s story (The Fixers, p. 168).
First week in August 2016: Davidson and AMI reportedly negotiated an agreement to purchase McDougal’s story (The Fixers, p. 168).
On or around August 5, 2016: AMI acquired the “limited life rights” to the story of McDougal’s alleged affair with Trump for $150,000. AMI also committed to feature McDougal on “two magazine covers and publish over one hundred magazine articles authored by her. Despite the cover and article features to the agreement, its principal purpose, as understood by those involved, including [Cohen], was to suppress [McDougal’s] story so as to prevent it from influencing the election” (Cohen Criminal Information, p. 13; AMI Non-Prosecution Agreement, p. 4; The Fixers, pp. 168, 192).
On or around August 10, 2016: AMI sent $150,000 to Davidson “in cooperation, consultation, and concert with, and at the request and suggestion of one or more members or agents of a candidate’s 2016 presidential campaign, to ensure that a woman did not publicize damaging allegations about that candidate before the 2016 presidential election and thereby influence that election” (AMI Non-Prosecution Agreement, p. 4).
August – October 2016: Clifford reportedly participated in talks with multiple outlets including Good Morning America and Slate for her account of the alleged Trump affair. Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate, claimed to have spoken with Clifford several times during this period. Clifford reportedly told Weisberg that, using lawyers as intermediaries, “Trump had negotiated to buy her silence.” Weisberg claimed that Clifford also sent him photos of “an unfinished draft contract in which pseudonyms had been used.” However, Clifford then reportedly “cut Weisberg off,” and he did not pursue the story (The Fixers, p. 238; Slate; The New York Times; Cohen Warrant, p. 40).
August 2016 – September 2016: Pecker agreed to assign the rights to the non-disclosure portion of AMI’s agreement with McDougal to Cohen in exchange for a $125,000 payment. During this period, Cohen also “incorporated a shell entity called ‘Resolution Consultants LLC’ for use in the transaction.” (Cohen Criminal information, pp. 13-14; AMI Non-Prosecution Agreement).
September 30, 2016: Following his discussions with Cohen, Pecker signed the assignment agreement and delivered it to Cohen “along with an invoice from a shell corporation incorporated by the consultant [separate from Cohen’s shell entity] for the payment of $125,000, which stated the payment was for an ‘agreed upon ‘flat fee’ for advisory services’” (AMI Non-Prosecution Agreement, p. 5; Cohen Criminal information, pp. 13-14).
September 30, 2016: Resolution Consultants LLC was created in Delaware. Cohen reportedly used his own name for the corporate formation documents (The Fixers, p. 237).
Early October 2016: Before Cohen had paid the previously invoiced $125,000, Pecker “contacted [Cohen] and told him, in substance, that the deal was off and that [Cohen] should tear up the assignment agreement. [Cohen] did not tear up the agreement, which was later found during a judicially authorized search of his office” (Cohen Criminal Information, pp. 13-14; see also AMI Non-Prosecution Agreement, p. 5).
October 7, 2016: The 2005 Access Hollywood tape of Trump saying “Grab ’em by the pussy” became public (The Washington Post).
October 8, 2016*: The very next day, Rodriguez, Davidson, and Howard reportedly began discussions about AMI purchasing Clifford’s story. They appear to have believed it was “more marketable [then] than it had been when Rodriguez first pitched Howard in April, before the Access Hollywood tape placed Trump’s treatment of women in the national spotlight” (The Fixers, p. 174).
*The timeline of events on October 8 is supplied primarily from two sources: The Fixers and Cohen’s search warrant. Each source provides information about the conversations that occurred between Trump, Cohen, Hicks, Pecker, Howard, Davidson, and Rodriguez. However, where The Fixers provides precise details about the contents of the conversations, it fails to include the precise times of those conversations. Cohen’s search warrant, conversely, provides precise details about the times of calls, but not their contents. In order not to mangle the timeline, we present the information below as it appears in the original sources. Where we were able to confirm facts in both sources, we have indicated so with an additional in-text citation.
October 8, 2016, Sourced from The Fixers (facts shown in the order they appeared)
- Afternoon: Davidson texted Howard that “‘Trump is fucked.’” Howard responded, “‘Wave the white flag. It’s over people!’” (The Fixers, p. 174).
- A few hours later in the afternoon: Davidson emailed Rodriguez, asking if she had “‘heard from [Clifford] lately?’” (The Fixers, p. 174).
- Around 30 minutes later: Howard texted Rodriguez to follow up on her client, asking her “to send him a pitch so he could elevate it to his boss, [Pecker].” He added that Pecker would “likely pay.” Rodriguez then emailed Howard the pitch, which included “a brief description of her client’s [Clifford’s] claims” (The Fixers, p. 174).
- After 7:20 pm ET: “Cohen had a conference call with Hicks and Trump, followed by a call with Hicks alone. Hicks had heard from another campaign aide” that there was another tape, “this one of Trump cavorting with prostitutes in Moscow during a trip there for the Miss Universe pageant in 2013. Hicks had been told that TMZ might have access to the tape, and she knew that Cohen was very close to Harvey Levin, the gossip outlet’s founder. Hicks asked Cohen to let her know if he heard anything from Levin. She also impressed on him … that the campaign’s messaging was that Trump’s remarks on the Access Hollywood were merely ‘locker room talk’” (The Fixers, p. 175; see also Cohen Warrant, p. 41).
- After Cohen’s call with Hicks: “Cohen, Pecker, and Howard exchanged a series of calls after Cohen got off the phone with Hicks. Cohen lobbied Pecker to buy Daniels’s [Clifford’s] story.” During these calls, Cohen sought to convince Pecker to purchase and not publish the story, as he had done with McDougal’s account in a practice known as “catch-and-kill” (The Fixers, p. 175).
- Less than an hour after Rodriguez sent her pitch of Clifford’s story to Howard: Howard texted Rodriguez: “‘How much for [Clifford]?’” She replied “‘250k,’” and they negotiated it down to “‘120.’” Howard then told Rodriguez that “he’d be back in touch by the following morning” (The Fixers, pp. 175–176).
- “Minutes after signing off with Rodriguez”: Howard texted Pecker: “Woman wants 120k” and Pecker replied “‘We can’t pay 120k.’” Howard then said “‘Ok. They’d need to handle. Perhaps I call Michael and advise him and he can take it from there, and handle.’” Pecker responded, “‘Yes good idea’” (The Fixers, p. 176).
- After AMI decided not to purchase Clifford’s story: Howard and Davidson communicated. Howard agreed “to contact Cohen (again) to vouch for Davidson.” This was because Davidson was anxious about negotiating with Cohen after a previously tense interaction in September. Howard and Cohen communicated again. Howard told Cohen, “‘Be nice’” to Davidson. Howard then texted Pecker “to let him know that Cohen had agreed to handle the story and leave American Media out of it.” He continued: “‘Spoke to MC. All sorted. Now removed. No fingerprints. I’ll recap with you face to face.’” Pecker replied “‘Great work Thx’” (The Fixers, p. 177).
- 9:13 pm GMT: Howard texted Cohen “‘Keith will do it. Let’s reconvene tomorrow’” (The Fixers, p. 177; see also Cohen Warrant, p. 42).
- “Past 2 [am]” GMT: Cohen texted Howard, “Thank you.” A few minutes later he sent another text to Howard with “the name of his shell company, Resolution Consultants” (The Fixers, p. 177).
October 8, 2016, Sourced from Cohen Warrant
- 7:20 pm: “At approximately 7:20 p.m., Cohen received a call from [Hope] Hicks. Sixteen seconds into the call, Trump joined the call, and the call continued for over four minutes.” Based on toll records, “this was the first call Cohen had received or made to Hicks in at least multiple weeks” (Cohen Warrant, p. 41; see also The Fixers, p. 175).
- About 7:34 pm: “Approximately ten minutes after the call ended, Hicks and Cohen spoke again for about two minutes” (Cohen Warrant, p. 42; see also The Fixers, p. 175).
- At some point during the 7:20 pm and 7:34 pm calls (no distinction is made between them in The Fixers), Hicks and Cohen communicated about a rumor that “Hicks had heard from another campaign aid” that there was another tape, “this one of Trump cavorting with prostitutes in Moscow during a trip there for the Miss Universe pageant in 2013. Hicks had been told that TMZ might have access to the tape, and she knew that Cohen was very close to Harvey Levin, the outlet’s founder. Hicks asked Cohen to let her know if he heard anything from Levin. She also impressed on him… that the campaign’s messaging was that Trump’s remarks on the Access Hollywood tape were merely ‘locker room talk’” (The Fixers, p. 175).)
- At 7:39 pm (immediately after the Hicks-Cohen call ends): Cohen called Pecker for 30 seconds (Cohen Warrant, p. 42).
- Approximately 4 minutes later (about 7:43 pm): Cohen called Pecker again, and they spoke “for more than a minute” (Cohen Warrant, p. 42).
- 3 minutes after the Cohen-Pecker call ends (about 7:47 pm): Howard called Cohen. They spoke “for approximately a minute” (Cohen Warrant, p. 42).
- 7:56 pm: Cohen called Hicks for 2 minutes (Cohen Warrant, p. 42).
- 7:58 pm: Pecker called Cohen for 2 minutes (Cohen Warrant, p. 42).
- 8:03 pm: Cohen called Trump for 8 minutes (Cohen Warrant, p. 42).
- 8:39 pm: Howard called Cohen for 4 minutes (Cohen Warrant, p. 42).
- 8:57 pm: Howard called Cohen for 6 minutes (Cohen Warrant, p. 42).
- 9:13 pm: Howard texted Cohen “‘Keith will do it. Let’s reconvene tomorrow’” (Cohen Warrant, p. 42; see also The Fixers, p. 177).
October 9, 2016:
- At some point this day: Rodriguez reportedly told “Howard that she had another offer for [Clifford’s] story, this one for $200,000, a lie meant to prod the deal along” (The Fixers, p. 177).
- 3:31 am: Cohen texted Howard: “‘Thank you’” (Cohen Warrant, p. 43).
- 3:39 am: Howard texted Cohen and Davidson: “‘Resolution Consultants LLC. is the name of the entity I formed a week ago. Whenever you wake, please call my cell’” (Cohen Warrant, p. 43).
October 10, 2016:
- 10:58 am: Howard texted Cohen and Davidson: “Keith/Michael: connecting you both in regards to that business opportunity. Spoke to the client this AM and they’re confirmed to proceed with the opportunity. Thanks. Dylan. Over to you two” (Cohen Warrant, p. 43).
- Howard also reportedly “checked in with Rodriguez” (The Fixers, p. 177).
- 12:25 pm: Davidson texted Cohen: “Michael – if we are ever going to close this deal – In my opinion, it needs to be today. Keith” (Cohen Warrant, p. 43).
- Immediately after: Cohen and Davidson spoke on the phone for 3 minutes (Cohen Warrant, p. 43).
- During this call, Cohen and Davidson reportedly negotiated the price point for the story: “Cohen wanted to buy the story, but he balked at [Clifford’s] six-figure demand… Davidson said $130,000 was as low as Rodriguez and [Clifford] were willing to go.” Davidson cited a competing offer, which didn’t actually exist (The Fixers, pp. 177-178).
- On or soon after October 10, 2016: Davidson and Clifford signed a “side letter agreement” to a “confidential settlement agreement and mutual release” signed under two pseudonyms: “Peggy Peterson” and “David Dennison.” The side letter agreement provided the “true name and identity” of the signatories, but only Peterson was identified in the document (as Clifford); the Dennison identifier and associated signature lines were left blank. A federal investigator later hypothesized that “Davidson sent Cohen this partially signed ‘side letter’ in order to facilitate the closing of a deal between Davidson’s client and Cohen or Cohen’s client” (Cohen Warrant, pp. 43-44).
Between October 10 and October 28, 2016: During a meeting in Trump’s office, Trump allegedly told Cohen “that he had spoken to a couple of friends, and it is 130,000, it is not a lot of money, and we should just do it, so go ahead and do it.” Trump then reportedly directed Cohen and Allen Weisselberg, the CFO of the Trump Organization (who Cohen later testified was also present in the meeting), to “go back to Mr. Weisselberg’s office and figure this all out” (Cohen Testimony, p. 38; see also Cohen Testimony, p. 26).
October 13, 2016: Cohen began taking “steps to complete a transaction with Davidson, including attempting to open an account from which Cohen could transfer funds to Davidson” (Cohen Warrant, p. 44).
- 8:54 a.m: Cohen texted Pecker “I need to talk to you.” (Cohen Warrant, p. 44).
- 9:06 a.m: Pecker texted Cohen: “I called please call me back.” After this message, Pecker and Cohen appear to have moved their communications onto Signal (Cohen Warrant, p. 44).
- 9:23 am: Cohen emailed a set of documents “from the Secretary of State of Delaware indicating that Cohen had formed a limited liability company called ‘Resolution Consultants LLC’ on September 30, 2016” to a First Republic Bank employee. The body of the email asked the employee to “call me” (Cohen Warrant, p. 45).
- 10:44 am: Cohen called the First Republic employee and told him “that he needed an account in the name of ‘Resolution Consultants’ opened immediately.” The account was never opened, however, because Cohen failed to complete the requisite paperwork (Cohen Warrant, p. 45).
October 17, 2016: Cohen reportedly dissolved Resolution Consultants and set up a new company, Essential Consultants L.L.C., two minutes later. It appears that Cohen used the same registered agent in Delaware for both companies (The New York Times; The Fixers, p. 237).
- That afternoon, The Wall Street Journal editor Ashby Jones reportedly shared a tip he had received on the hush money payments. Per Jones, a “Los Angeles lawyer with the initials K.D.—the source didn’t want to volunteer more—was traversing the country, paying hush money to women who’d been romantically involved with Donald Trump” (The Fixers, p. 188).
- At some point on this day: “Davidson emailed Cohen and threatened to cancel the… ‘settlement agreement’ by the end of the day if Cohen did not complete the transaction.” Davidson followed that up with “a second email later in the day that stated in part, ‘Please be advised that my client deems her settlement agreement canceled and void’” (Cohen Warrant, p. 46).
- 4:00 p.m.: Cohen called Davidson. They “spoke for over five minutes” (Cohen Warrant, p. 46).
- 4:43 p.m.: Howard texted Cohen: “‘I’m told they’re going with DailyMail. Are you aware?’ One minute later, Cohen responded: ‘Call me.’” (Cohen Warrant, p. 46).
October 18, 2016: A “thinly sourced article” posted on The Smoking Gun website reported the alleged affair between Clifford and Trump. The story received scant attention from mainstream media; Clifford did not respond publicly (The Washington Post).
October 25, 2016: Cohen, Davidson, Howard, and Pecker had several text exchanges and calls “apparently concerning a transaction involving Clifford” (Cohen Warrant, p. 47)
- 6:09 p.m.: “Howard sent Cohen a text message stating: ‘Keith calling you urgently. We have to coordinate something on the matter he’s calling you about or its [sic] could look awfully bad for everyone.’ One minute later, Davidson sent Cohen a text message stating ‘Call me.’ Cohen and Davidson called each other several times over the next half hour but appear not to have connected” (Cohen Warrant, p. 47)
- 6:42 p.m.: “Cohen and Davidson spoke for about eight minutes” (Cohen Warrant, p. 47).
- 7:11 p.m.: Cohen and Davidson “spoke for another two minutes” (Cohen Warrant, p. 47; see also Cohen Criminal Information, pp. 14-15).
October 26, 2016:
- 8:26 a.m.: “Cohen called Trump and spoke to him for approximately three minutes” (Cohen Warrant, p. 47)
- 8:34 a.m.: “Cohen called Trump again and connected for a minute and a half” (Cohen Warrant, p. 47)
- 9:04 a.m.: Cohen “emailed an incorporating service to obtain the corporate formation documents” for Essential Consultants LLC (Cohen Warrant, p. 47-48; Cohen Criminal Information, p. 15).
- Between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.: Cohen opened an account for Essential Consultants LLC at the First Republic Bank in Manhattan. After opening the account, Cohen “drew down $131,000 from the fraudulently obtained HELOC [home equity line of credit, also held by Cohen at First Republic Bank],” and requested that it be deposited into the Essential Consultants account he had just opened (Cohen Warrant, p. 48; Cohen Criminal Information, p. 15).
- 4:15 p.m.: A First Republic Bank employee confirmed that “the funds had been deposited into the Essential Consultants account” (Cohen Warrant, p. 49).
October 27, 2016: At around 10:01 a.m., Cohen “completed paperwork to wire $130,000 from the Essential Consultants account” to Davidson’s attorney-client trust account at City National Bank in Los Angeles. On the paperwork, Cohen “falsely indicated that the ‘purpose of wire being sent’ was ‘retainer.’” This payment amounted to a contribution to the Trump campaign “in excess of the limits of the Election Act, which aggregated $25,000 and more in calendar year 2016” since it was made “in cooperation, consultation, and concert with, and at the request and suggestion of one or more members of the campaign…to ensure that she [Clifford] did not publicize damaging allegations before the 2016 presidential election and thereby influence that election” (Cohen Warrant, p. 50; The New York Times; Cohen Criminal Information, p. 15, p. 19).
October 28, 2016: Cohen reportedly called Trump and updated him on the situation. The same day, Cohen and Clifford reportedly signed “a contract that effectively promise[d] Ms. Clifford money in exchange for not talking about the alleged affair with Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump’s name [did] not technically appear on the document.” (The Fixers, p. 183; The New York Times).
November 1, 2016: Davidson sent Cohen “copies of the final, signed confidential settlement agreement and side letter agreement.” After he confirmed delivery of the paperwork, Davidson reportedly “wired the payment to Clifford’s account” (Cohen Criminal Information, p. 15; The Fixers, p. 183).
- 7:05 p.m.: Cohen called Trump but “it appears they did not connect. Cohen then called a telephone number belonging to Kellyanne Conway, who at the time was Trump’s campaign manager. They did not connect.” (Cohen Warrant, p. 52).
- 7:44p.m.: Conway returned Cohen’s call. They spoke for “approximately six minutes” (Cohen Warrant, p. 52).
November 4, 2016: Four days before the general election, The Wall Street Journal published an article about the $150,000 hush money deal between McDougal and AMI. The article referenced Clifford only briefly, “reporting that she was considering sharing her story with ABC News but abruptly disappeared on the network before doing so” (The New York Times; The Wall Street Journal).
- Between 4:30 and 8:00 p.m.: “Cohen communicated several times with Howard, Pecker, and Davidson” (Cohen Warrant, p. 53).
- 8:51 p.m.: “Cohen sent Howard a message, stating: ‘She’s [McDougal] being really difficult with giving Keith a statement. Basically went into hiding and unreachable.’ One minute later, Howard responded: ‘I’ll ask him again. We just need her to disappear.’ Cohen responded, ‘She definitely disappeared but refused to give a statement and Keith cannot push her.’ ” (Cohen Warrant, p. 53).
- 8:55 p.m.: “Howard responded to Cohen’s text: ‘Let’s let the dust settle. We don’t want to push her over the edge. She’s on side [sic] at present and we have a solid position and a plausible position that she is rightfully employed as a columnist’” (Cohen Warrant, p. 53).
November 8, 2016: Trump and Pence were elected president and vice president of the United States (NBC News).
December 2016: Pecker allegedly met with Trump at Trump Tower “to briefly offer his congratulations to the president-elect of the United States.” Before the meeting, Cohen reportedly asked Pecker “to urge Trump to pay Cohen more money,” especially given that Trump “hadn’t yet repaid his fixer for the Stormy Daniels deal.” Pecker apparently so urged Trump, but “Trump was unmoved. ‘You don’t know how much money he’s got,’ Trump said” (The Fixers, p. 197).
January 2017: Cohen sought “reimbursement for election-related expenses” from the Trump Organization. He presented company executives “with a copy of a bank statement from the Essential Consultants bank account, which reflected the $130,000 payment” made to keep Clifford “silent in advance of the election, plus a $35 wire fee. In handwriting, Cohen added another $50,000 as a “claimed payment for ‘tech services,’…related to work [he] had solicited from a technology company during and in connection with the campaign.” The Trump Organization executives “grossed up” the total $180,035 reimbursement request to $360,000 “for tax purposes,” then “added a bonus of $60,000” for a final total $420,000 payment to Cohen. They decided to make the payments “in monthly amounts of $35,000 over the course of twelve months,” for which Cohen would send invoices (Cohen Criminal Information, pp. 16-17; PBS and USA Today).
January 2017: Cohen left the Trump Organization and “began holding himself out” as Trump’s personal attorney (Cohen Criminal Information, p. 1).
January 2017: During another visit to Trump Tower, Trump allegedly thanked Pecker for “buying [McDougal’s] story and burying it” (The Fixers, p. 197).
February 14, 2017: Cohen sent a Trump Organization executive (allegedly, Weisselberg) the first monthly invoice for his reimbursement payments. Cohen’s invoice requested $35,000 for January and $35,000 for February “[p]ursuant to [a] retainer agreement” for “services rendered.” Weisselberg “forwarded the invoice to another executive of the Company (“Executive-2”) the same day by email, and it was approved.” Weisselberg forwarded the approval email to another Trump Organization employee and instructed them,“Please pay from the Trust. Post to legal expenses. Put ‘retainer for the months of January and February 2017’ in the description.” Accordingly, the Trump Organization “accounted for these payments as legal expenses,” though “[i]n truth and fact, there was no such retainer agreement” and Cohen’s invoices “were not in connection with any legal services he had provided in 2017.” The first check to Cohen for $70,000 was reportedly signed the same day by Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr. (Cohen Criminal Information, p. 17; The Fixers, pp. 209–210; POLITICO; The New York Times).
March 17, 2017: Donald Trump Jr. and Weisselberg signed a $35,000 check to Cohen (The New York Times).
May 23, 2017: Trump himself signed a $35,000 dollar check to Cohen from his personal account. Trump ultimately signed six of the publicly known checks to Cohen (The New York Times).
August 1, 2017: Trump signed the second $35,000 dollar check to Cohen, again from his personal account (The New York Times).
September 12, 2017: Trump signed the third $35,000 dollar check to Cohen, again from his personal account (The New York Times).
October 18, 2017: Trump signed the fourth $35,000 dollar check to Cohen, again from his personal account (The New York Times).
October 20, 2017: The DOJ granted special counsel Robert Mueller “authorization to investigate Cohen, among others, and to follow leads related to his creation and use of Essential Consultants” as Mueller deepened his investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia (The Fixers, p. 221).
Circa Late October 2017: Davidson claims to have received “an unusual inquiry” from a client manager at his bank in Los Angeles asking about the source and purpose of the wire transfer he had made to Clifford the previous year. In response, Davidson reportedly “told the bank that the payment had originated with Essential Consultants, and that it was for a legal settlement.” He then reportedly called Cohen to report the conversation. Cohen was reportedly “concerned that someone pretending to be a bank employee had tried to get Davidson to divulge the nondisclosure agreement” but “didn’t seem to grasp the potential peril” that the Mueller investigation was behind the inquiry. Cohen allegedly “did, however, secretly record their phone call” (The Fixers, p. 221).
November 21, 2017: Trump signed the fifth $35,000 dollar check to Cohen, again from his personal account (The New York Times).
December 5, 2017: Trump signed the sixth and final $35,000 dollar check to Cohen, again from his personal account (The New York Times).
January 12, 2018: News broke that Cohen had allegedly arranged a deal to pay Clifford $130,000 to keep her silent during the 2016 campaign. In response, Cohen released a statement addressed to The Wall Street Journal claiming, “These rumors have circulated time and again since 2011. President Trump once again vehemently denies any such occurrence as has Ms. Daniels.” Cohen also forwarded The Journal a two-paragraph statement signed by “Stormy Daniels” denying the affair. A White House official separately stated, “These are old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied before the election” (The Wall Street Journal; The New York Times; see also The New York Times).
January 17, 2018: In Touch published the transcript of its previously-quashed 2011 interview with Clifford (The Washington Post).
January 18, 2018: The Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen had used “a private Delaware company,” Essential Consultants LLC, to make the $130,000 payment to Clifford (The Wall Street Journal).
January 22, 2018: Government watchdog organization Common Cause filed an FEC complaint alleging that Cohen’s payment to Clifford had violated campaign finance laws. (Cohen Warrant, p. 55).
January 30, 2018: During an interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Clifford neither confirmed nor denied her alleged affair with Trump and “strongly hint[ed] that she is subject to an NDA.” Hours before Clifford’s interview, Davidson reportedly drafted a second denial statement at the behest of “Cohen and company.” The statement reportedly asserted that Clifford was not denying the affair “because [she] was paid ‘hush money,’” but because “it never happened.” Clifford allegedly signed the document “without complaint,” but changed her handwriting “as if in subtle protest.” When Kimmel questioned whether Clifford had actually signed the denial, she responded, “‘I don’t know, did I? That doesn’t look like my signature, does it?’” (The Washington Post; The Fixers, p. 242-243).
February 8, 2018: In response to an inquiry from the FEC, one of Cohen’s attorneys sent a letter stating, “In a private transaction in 2016, before the U.S. presidential election, Mr. Cohen used his own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford. Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed Mr. Cohen for the payment directly or indirectly.” (Letter to the FEC Office of Complaints Examination).
February 13, 2018: In a statement to The New York Times, Cohen claimed that “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford. The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or campaign expenditure by anyone” (Cohen Warrant, p. 56).
On or about February 14, 2018: The New York Times asked Cohen “whether Trump had reimbursed him, whether he and Trump had made any arrangements at the time of the payment, or whether he had made payments to other women. Cohen stated in response, ‘I can’t get into any of that’” (Cohen Warrant, p. 56).
February 15, 2018: Likely believing that Cohen’s comments to The New York Times had nullified her NDA, Clifford’s agent told AP News that “Everything is off now, and Stormy is going to tell her story” (AP News).
February 16, 2018: The New Yorker published a story featuring details of McDougal’s alleged affair with Trump based on “an eight-page, handwritten document” created by McDougal and provided to the magazine by Crawford. McDougal granted an interview for the piece but “expressed surprise” that the magazine had obtained her notes. During her interview, McDougal “declined to discuss her relationship with Trump for fear of violating the agreement she had reached with [AMI].” In an email to AMI’s general counsel soon after the article dropped, McDougal’s lawyer reportedly asserted that while “McDougal was not contractually required to keep quiet,” her client would “consider entering into a fresh nondisclosure agreement if [AMI] was willing to pay her more money. If not, she’d grant more interviews” (The New Yorker; The Fixers, pp. 248–250).
February 22, 2018: Cohen reportedly initiated secret arbitration proceedings following Clifford’s media engagements (The Fixers, p. 251).
February 27, 2018: An arbitrator reportedly “found that Ms. Clifford had violated the [NDA] agreement” and issued a restraining order against Clifford (The New York Times).
March 6, 2018: Clifford filed a lawsuit “asserting that the nondisclosure agreement that accompanied the $130,000 was void because Mr. Trump never signed it.” The complaint revealed the arbitration proceedings Cohen had initiated in an effort to silence Clifford, as well as the terms of the contract Clifford had signed on October 28, 2016 (The New York Times).
March 7, 2018: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, asserted that “there was no knowledge of any payments from the president” and “he has denied all these allegations.” The same day, Clifford’s attorney, Michael Avenatti (who had replaced Davidson at this point), publicly and explicitly asserted “that [Clifford] had a sexual relationship with Trump” (The New York Times; The Washington Post).
March 9, 2018: Avanetti provided ABC News with a set of emails that he claimed contained communications between Cohen and First Republic Bank surrounding the 2016 payment to Davidson, who was still Clifford’s attorney at the time. NBC News separately broke the news that Cohen had used his Trump Organization email for the exchange. Cohen responded by downplaying the emails as “corroborat[ing] all my previous statements.” He went on to describe how the payment was made, stating, “The funds were taken from my home equity line and transferred internally to my L.L.C. account in the same bank.” Cohen also brushed aside the revelation that he had used his Trump Organization email to coordinate the transaction, stating “I sent emails from the Trump Org email address to my family, friends as well as Trump business emails. I basically used it for everything. I am certain most people can relate.” (ABC News; NBC).
March 14, 2018: The Wall Street Journal published a story highlighting the role that Jill Martin, the Trump Organization’s assistant general counsel, played in the arbitration at the request of Eric Trump. Per the Journal’s article, Avenatti supplied the outlet with documents Martin had signed, “for the first time [tying] President Donald Trump’s flagship holding company to the continuing effort to silence [Clifford]” (The Fixers, pp. 263–265; The Wall Street Journal).
March 16, 2018: Trump sought “$20 million in damages from [Clifford] for allegedly [breaking the] nondisclosure agreement 20 times. A lawyer for Cohen’s limited liability company, Essential Consultants, made the claim in papers filed in federal court” (The Washington Post).
Mid-March 2018: Two weeks after Clifford sued Trump and Essential Consultants, McDougal reportedly brought “a case against [AMI] in the same Los Angeles court” (The Fixers, p. 268).
March 25, 2018: Clifford was interviewed on 60 Minutes (60 Minutes).
March 26, 2018: Clifford amended her lawsuit against both Trump and Cohen to sue Cohen for defamation, which she claimed had occurred when Cohen put out his February 2018 statement about the $130,000 payment. The lawsuit argued that Cohen’s statement had caused Clifford “hatred, contempt, ridicule, and shame, and discouraged others from associating or dealing with her” and that she “ha[d] suffered damages in an amount to be proven at trial according to proof, including but not limited to, harm to her reputation, emotional harm, exposure to contempt, ridicule, and shame, and physical threats of violence to her person and life” (NPR).
April 5, 2018: Trump delivered his first public remarks about the alleged Clifford affair and ensuing hush money payment. When asked by a reporter if he knew about the payment to Clifford, Trump responded “No.” In response to another question asking why Cohen had made the payment, Trump answered “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney.” Trump also claimed that he did not know the source of the money for the payment (The New York Times).
April 9, 2018: As part of a probe by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, the FBI raided Cohen’s Rockefeller Center office, Park Avenue hotel room, and home. Federal investigators reportedly seized eight boxes of documents and millions of electronic files including business records, emails, and bank records related to a payment to Clifford from Cohen’s office, among other matters (The New York Times; The Fixers, p. 286).
April 15, 2018: Reports became public that the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan was investigating possible bank fraud in connection with Cohen’s payment to Clifford, which he had made using his home-equity credit line (The Wall Street Journal).
April 17, 2018: Clifford and her attorney released a composite sketch of the man she claimed had threatened her in a Las Vegas parking lot. Clifford’s attorney offered a $100,000 reward for information that would lead to the man’s apprehension (The Washington Post).
April 18, 2018: AMI reached a settlement agreement with McDougal, freeing McDougal to publicly discuss her alleged affair with Trump. McDougal’s original suit claimed that she had been misled into signing the contract that sold AMI the rights to her story about Trump; the suit also alleged that Cohen had been secretly involved in the negotiations between AMI and McDougal’s lawyer. The settlement agreement foreclosed the possibility of pretrial discovery, which could have revealed emails and other evidence beyond what was found in the FBI’s April 9 raid (The New York Times).
April 21, 2018: As some speculated whether Cohen would “flip“ and begin cooperating with government investigators against Trump, the president tweeted that “most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that.” He described Cohen as a “fine person with a wonderful family.”
April 26, 2018: Trump admitted that Cohen had represented him in dealing with Clifford in an interview on Fox & Friends, stating, “He represents me, like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me” (The New York Times).
April 30, 2018: Clifford filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump in Manhattan federal court. The suit focused on a tweet Trump had sent on April 18, 2018 related to the sketch of the man who allegedly threatened Clifford in 2011 (The Wall Street Journal).
May 2, 2018: During a Fox News interview, Rudolph Giuliani (Trump’s new lawyer) acknowledged and described Trump’s repayments to Cohen for the hush money. Giuliani stated that “they funneled it [the $130,000 payment to Clifford] through a law firm, and the president repaid it” (The New York Times).
July 2, 2018: “My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” Cohen told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos. “I put family and country first” (ABC News). Stephanopoulos wrote that “Cohen strongly signaled his willingness to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York — even if that puts President Trump in jeopardy.”
July 24, 2018: CNN released an audio tape of Trump and Cohen discussing what appears to be the plan to buy the rights to McDougal’s story. In the recording, Cohen explicitly mentions what appears to be the plan to set up a shell company to execute the payment, stating “I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David” (CNN; The Washington Post).
July 25, 2018: Trump tweeted a response to the tape and suggested it was doctored by Cohen: “What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So sad! Is this a first, never heard of it before? Why was the tape so abruptly terminated (cut) while I was presumably saying positive things?” (POLITICO).
July 26, 2018: Press reports continued to circulate that Cohen might be “flipping” on Trump and could cooperate with the investigation. (CNN)
August 21, 2018: Cohen pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to charges including campaign finance violations and criminal tax evasion. Cohen told the judge that Trump had directed him to arrange the hush money payments, which he claimed were intended to prevent Clifford and McDougal from speaking publicly about their alleged affairs with Trump (The New York Times; Cohen Plea Press Release).
August 22, 2018: Trump claimed that the payments to Clifford and McDougal were legal because they “came from me” rather than his campaign. “They weren’t taken out of campaign finance, that’s the big thing,” he told Fox & Friends (USA Today).
September 20, 2018: AMI privately signed a non-prosecution agreement protecting the company from criminal charges out of the SDNY U.S. Attorney’s Office. In exchange, AMI agreed to “cooperate fully” with investigators and fully disclose all information related to the hush money payments. (AMI Non-Prosecution Agreement).
December 7, 2018: Federal prosecutors released Cohen’s sentencing memo. In its summary of Cohen’s crimes, the memo endorsed Cohen’s claims that Cohen had carried out both hush money payments “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump (Cohen Sentencing Memo, pp. 2-4, 13-15).
December 12, 2018: Prosecutors released the details of the non-prosecution agreement with AMI, revealing the extent of AMI’s involvement in the hush money payments and corroborating many aspects of Cohen’s story. Among the key revelations was that “AMI’s principal purpose in entering into the agreement was to suppress the model’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election”–indicating that the payments were likely campaign-related.
December 12, 2018: Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for a litany of financial crimes committed while he was in Trump’s employ. Cohen was also sentenced the same day in a separate case for making false statements to Congress (The Washington Post; DOJ Press Release).
January 10, 2019: Congressional Democrats announced that Cohen had agreed to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on February 7 (The Washington Post).
January 11, 2019: Avenatti announced that he and Clifford would attend the Cohen hearing on February 7 (POLITICO).
January 23, 2019: Cohen postponed his February 7 appearance before Congress after reportedly receiving “threats against his family” from Trump and Giuliani. (USA Today).
February 5, 2019: Clifford dropped her defamation claim against Cohen. Avenatti stated “We asked that the minor defamation claim be dismissed and it was because the court sided with us and against Cohen” (The Washington Post).
February 27, 2019: Cohen testified publicly against Trump before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. (Cohen’s testimony can be found here.) When asked if Trump’s organization had made other hush money payments during the campaign, Cohen claimed that Pecker had sent money to other individuals under similar circumstances—and that “not all of them had to do with women” (The New York Times; POLITICO).
March 7, 2019: Cohen sued the Trump Organization for breach of contract and sought reimbursement for $1.9 million in legal fees incurred after Cohen began cooperating with federal prosecutors. The complaint also claimed that the Trump Organization was responsible for paying the nearly $2 million penalty imposed after Cohen pleaded guilty (The New York Times).
July 18, 2019: Court documents were unsealed that publicly revealed the communications among Trump, Hicks, Cohen, and several AMI executives in the days following the Access Hollywood tape release in 2016. The documents also appeared to show that “Cohen learned around the same time that Clifford had been considering going public with her claim that she had sex with Trump…. at least some of these communications concerned the need to prevent Clifford from going public, particularly in the wake of the Access Hollywood story” (CNBC).
August 1, 2019: Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr. subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents related to the Clifford hush money payments.(The New York Times).
May 21, 2020: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Cohen was released from federal prison to serve the remainder of his sentence at home (AP News).
July 9, 2020: Federal marshals took Cohen back into custody after he “refused the conditions of his home confinement.” Probation officers had reportedly asked Cohen to agree to a set of conditions including “no engagement of any kind with the media, including print, TV, film, books, or any other form of media/news” for the remainder of his home confinement. Cohen reportedly refused and was brought to a federal detention facility (The New York Times).
July 23, 2020: A federal judge ordered Cohen’s return to home confinement after finding that his re-imprisonment amounted to a retaliatory act undertaken by the government. During the hearing, the judge stated “I cannot believe fairly that it was not in purpose … to stop his exercise of First Amendment rights.” Cohen had planned to publish a tell-all book about Trump during his confinement (USA Today).
July 31, 2020: The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling dismissing Clifford’s 2018 libel lawsuit against Trump (POLITICO).
April 26, 2021: The FEC voted to dismiss a 2018 and a 2019 complaint against Cohen for his role in the Clifford payments. The commissioners found that since “the public record is complete with respect to the conduct at issue in these complaints, and Mr. Cohen has been punished by the government of the United States for the conduct at issue in these matters…pursuing these matters further was not the best use of agency resources” (FEC Statement of Reasons).
May 6, 2021: In a split decision that fell along partisan lines, the FEC voted against investigating charges that Trump and his Committee had violated campaign finance laws in the process of making the 2016 Clifford payment and subsequent Cohen reimbursements. The dissenting commissioners noted: “We voted to support OGC’s recommendations to find reason to believe that Trump and the Committee knowingly and willfully accepted an excessive contribution from Cohen and a prohibited corporate or excessive contribution from the Trump Organization, that the Committee knowingly and willfully filed false disclosure reports, and that the Trump Organization knowingly and willfully made a corporate or excessive contribution through its reimbursements to Cohen. There is ample evidence in the record to support the finding that Trump and the Committee knew of, and nonetheless accepted, the illegal contributions at issue here”; “the Commission’s Office of the General Counsel (‘OGC’) recommended finding reason to believe that Cohen and the Trump Organization made, and Trump and Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. (the ‘Committee’) accepted and failed to report, illegal contributions.” (FEC Statement of Reasons).
June 1, 2021: The FEC reached a settlement with AMI after the commission concluded that the company (allegedly at the direction of Trump and Cohen) had “knowingly and willfully” violated campaign finance laws through its payments to McDougal. AMI acknowledged the violations and agreed to pay a $187,500 fine, but did not admit to “knowingly and willfully” committing them (The New York Times).
November 12, 2021: In Cohen’s civil suit against the Trump Organization, a Manhattan state court ruled that the company was not required to reimburse Cohen for the millions of dollars in legal fees that Cohen sought. In a statement to CNN, the Trump Organization called the decision an “incredible victory” (Forbes).
November 22, 2021: Cohen’s three-year prison sentence, which had largely been served in home confinement, ended. (AP News).
December 17, 2021: Cohen filed a civil rights lawsuit against Trump and several other DOJ officials, seeking damages for alleged First, Fourth, and Eighth Amendment violations related to his re-confinement in federal prison the prior year (Law&Crime).
November 15, 2022: In a 5-0 decision, a New York state appeals court revived Cohen’s previous lawsuit seeking legal fee reimbursements from the Trump Organization. The court found that the presiding judge had incorrectly dismissed the case, opening a path for Cohen to sue the Trump Organization again (Reuters; Cohen v. Trump Organization LLC).
November 21, 2022: Reports emerged that Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg planned to revive his office’s criminal investigation into the Clifford hush-money payment. Bragg’s predecessor had examined the payment as possible grounds for a criminal indictment years before, but his office later reportedly decided that the surrounding legal theories were too risky to pursue the matter further (The New York Times).
January 30, 2023: Bragg convened a grand jury to hear evidence related to the Clifford hush money payment (The Washington Post).
March 1, 2023: Kellyanne Conway reportedly met with prosecutors from Bragg’s office, likely to discuss the ongoing hush money investigation (MSNBC).
March 6, 2023: Hicks reportedly met with prosecutors from Bragg’s office (MSNBC).
March 9, 2023: Bragg invited Trump to testify before the grand jury, according to one of Trump’s lawyers (AP).
March 13, 2023: Cohen reportedly testified before the grand jury (The Washington Post).
March 15, 2023: An attorney for Clifford stated that Clifford had met with Manhattan prosecutors and agreed to “make herself available as a witness, or for further inquiry if needed” (CBS).
March 18, 2023: In a Truth Social thread, Trump claimed that he would be arrested the following Tuesday, March 21, 2023. In a tweet, GOP House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy separately announced that “he would direct House committees to investigate” Bragg and his office. McCarthy stated that Bragg’s potential prosecution of Trump is “an outrageous abuse of power by a radical DA who lets violent criminals walk as he pursues political vengeance against President Trump,” and that he planned to direct “relevant committees to immediately investigate if federal funds are being used to subvert our democracy by interfering in elections with politically motivated prosecutions.” Following these posts, Bragg wrote in an internal email to his staff that his office would “not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York” (Truth Social; see also Truth Social; POLITICO; CNN).
March 19, 2023: Trump commented on the Manhattan investigation in another series of Truth Social posts, claiming that Bragg was funded by billionaire George Soros and that he had no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on Trump’s part (See, for example, Truth Social and Truth Social).
March 20, 2023: Robert Costello appeared before the Manhattan grand jury as a witness on behalf of Trump. Throughout the day, Trump continued to post about the investigation on Truth Social (PBS; Truth Social; see also Truth Social)
- Separately, Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Bryan Steil (chairmen of the House Judiciary, Oversight, and Administration committees, respectively) sent a letter requesting that Bragg testify before Congress, calling the Trump investigation an “unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority” and a “politically motivated prosecution.” When asked about the letter, McCarthy stated that the congressmen were “just ‘asking questions.’” A spokesperson for Bragg responded to the letter the same day, stating “We will not be intimidated by attempts to undermine the justice process, nor will we let baseless accusations deter us from fairly applying the law” (CNN).
March 23, 2023: Bragg’s office released a formal response to Jordan, Comer, and Steil’s request. Leslie Dubeck, general counsel for the DA’s office, told the chairmen that “they lacked a ‘legitimate basis for congressional inquiry’” and indicated that their probe “only came after Donald Trump created a false expectation that he would be arrested the next day and his lawyers reportedly urged you to intervene” (Manhattan DA Letter; CNN).
- The same day, Trump posted an image of himself “holding a baseball bat alongside a picture of Bragg’s head” on Truth Social. The post was later deleted. In two other Truth Social posts, Trump called Bragg a “SOROS BACKED ANIMAL [sic]” and levied what appeared to be criticism of those calling for peaceful protest: “OUR COUNTRY IS BEING DESTROYED, AS THEY TELL US TO BE PEACEFUL!” (The Washington Post; The New York Times; Truth Social; Truth Social).
March 24, 2023: Trump explicitly referenced the possibility of violence surrounding his possible arrest, posting on Truth Social that the “potential death & destruction in such a false charge could be catastrophic for our Country” (Truth Social).
March 25, 2023: Jordan, Comer, and Steil sent a second letter to Bragg, arguing that the potential criminal indictment of Trump “implicate[d] substantial federal interests.” That evening, Bragg tweeted a response to the chairmen, stating “We evaluate cases in our jurisdiction based on the facts, the law, and the evidence. It is not appropriate for Congress to interfere with pending local investigations. This unprecedented inquiry by federal elected officials into an ongoing matter serves only to hinder, disrupt and undermine the legitimate work of our dedicated prosecutors. As always, we will continue to follow the facts and be guided by the rule of law in everything we do” (CNN; Twitter).
March 27, 2023: Pecker reportedly testified before the Manhattan grand jury for the second time (The New York Times).
[Gretchen Knaut is the research director at a pro bono law firm in Washington, DC. She graduated magna cum laude from Yale University in 2020.
Ambassador Norman Eisen (ret.) (@NormEisen) served in the White House as special counsel and special assistant to the president for ethics and government reform and as ambassador to the Czech Republic under President Barack Obama, as well as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee from 2019–20, including for the first impeachment and trial of President Donald Trump.
McKenzie Carrier is a Spring 2023 Research Intern in the Governance Studies Program at The Brookings Institution and a student at Cornell University.
Vicka Heidt is a Spring 2023 Research Intern in the Governance Studies Program at The Brookings Institution and a student at Georgetown University.
Greg Phea (@GregPhea) is a Spring 2023 Research Intern in the Governance Studies Program at The Brookings Institution and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin.
Madison Gee is a project and research assistant in the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institution.]
Just Security is based at the Reiss Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law.