Federal prosecutors considered charging Donald Trump on his way out of office over hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, according to a new book.
Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York found substantial evidence against Trump during their investigation, which resulted in charges against his former attorney Michael Cohen in 2018, but did not consider charging him at that time due to Justice Department guidance that a sitting president cannot be indicted, but that changed by January 2021, according to a new book from CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig.
“The draft Cohen indictment was a full accounting, running over fifty pages in one iteration – essentially both a formal indictment of Cohen and a public excoriation of Trump, only without charges attached,” Honig wrote in his forthcoming book, Untouchable. “The SDNY’s draft indictment left no doubt: Trump wasn’t merely a bystander or an unwitting beneficiary of the campaign finance crime. He was the driving force behind the scheme, and likely criminally liable for it.”
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However, nearly all those details about Trump's role were missing from the indictment by DOJ officials, who softened the description of the former president in that document from "Co-conspirator 1" to "Individual-1."
“In DOJ’s view, the Trump-specific language was superfluous and threatened to harm the reputation of an unindicted party,” Honig wrote. “It would be unfair to Trump, and potentially damaging more broadly to the country, to effectively accuse the sitting president of a crime without affording him a formal mechanism to defend himself.”
Federal law enforcement officials changed their view after the Jan. 6 insurrection, when acting U.S. attorney Audrey Strauss held multiple discussions with a small group of prosecutors to discuss their evidence against the outgoing president -- although they ultimately decided against an indictment, Honig wrote, because his post-election actions “made the campaign finance violations seem somehow trivial and outdated by comparison.”
“We were well aware of the prudential reasons why you wouldn’t charge a president, even after he was out of office,” one source with knowledge of the investigation told Honig.