Federal prosecutors investigating President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, are seeking records related to two women who received payments in 2016 after alleging affairs with Trump years ago — adult-film star Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The interest in both Daniels and McDougal indicates that federal investigators are trying to determine whether there was a broader pattern or strategy among Trump associates to buy the silence of women whose accounts could harm the president’s electoral chances and whether any crimes were committed in doing so, the person said.
The high stakes of the case were underscored by the involvement of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who personally approved the move to seek a search warrant for Cohen’s records, which included raids Monday on his home and office, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation.
Rosenstein’s role has infuriated Trump, who was left “stunned” and “livid” by the aggressive move by prosecutors Monday, according to an outside adviser in frequent touch with the White House.
Cohen, Trump’s longtime attorney, is under federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations, The Washington Post reported Monday.
The New York Times first reported prosecutors’ interest in McDougal.
The former Playmate has said she had a 10-month relationship with Trump beginning in 2006 and then sold her story to American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, for $150,000 about three months before the 2016 election.
David Pecker, chief executive of AMI, is a personal friend of Trump. No story about McDougal ever appeared in the publication, a tabloid practice sometimes referred to as “catch and kill.”
AMI spokesman Jon Hammond did not respond to questions about whether the company had been contacted by federal investigators.
“American Media Inc. has, and will continue to, comply with any and all requests that do not jeopardize or violate its protected sources or materials pursuant to our First Amendment rights,” Hammond said.
McDougal’s attorney, Peter Stris, declined to comment on the Cohen investigation.
The search warrants served Monday on Cohen’s Rockefeller Center office and home sought his personal financial information and client communications, including records related to Daniels, who was paid $130,000 by the Trump lawyer just days before the 2016 election in what she described as an effort to buy her silence.
The raids, which also swept up communications between Cohen and Trump, left the White House scrambling to contain yet another crisis in an administration rife with them.
Some White House allies think that this one, like many of the administration’s pockets of turbulence, was brought on by Trump himself – specifically, by comments he made last week aboard Air Force One, when he claimed he had no knowledge of the payment Cohen made to Daniels, according to three people familiar with the discussions.
As news of the raid on his personal attorney unfolded, Trump followed cable news reports, and privately griped about Rosenstein, who also oversees the special counsel investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign. Many in the president’s orbit think Rosenstein’s position is currently the most endangered if the president decides to take action to try to halt the probe, according to people familiar with the situation.