NEW YORK — The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is considering pursuing criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two senior company officials in connection with Michael D. Cohen’s hush money payment to an adult film actress, according to two officials with knowledge of the matter.
A state investigation would center on how the company accounted for its reimbursement to Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to the actress Stephanie Clifford, who has said she had an affair with President Donald Trump, the officials said.
Both officials stressed that the office’s review of the matter is in its earliest stages and prosecutors have not yet made a decision on whether to proceed.
State charges against the company or its executives could be significant because Trump has talked about pardoning some of his current or former aides who have faced federal charges. As president, he has no power to pardon people and corporate entities convicted of state crimes.
The Trump Organization recorded the reimbursement as a legal expense. But Cohen, Trump’s longtime fixer, said on Tuesday that he paid Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, to buy her silence during the 2016 campaign. Federal prosecutors have said the reimbursement payments were for sham legal invoices in connection with a nonexistent retainer agreement. Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance charges, did no legal work in connection with the matter, prosecutors said.
“On it’s face, it certainly would be problematic,” said one of the officials familiar with the district attorney’s office review, noting that listing the reimbursement as a legal expense could be a felony under state law.
The Trump Organization’s lawyer, Alan S. Futerfas, declined to comment.
As the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., considers opening an investigation, the New York State Attorney General’s Office has moved to open a criminal investigation into whether Cohen has violated state tax law, an inquiry that would be unrelated to the federal tax evasion charges that he pleaded guilty to on Tuesday, according to a person with knowledge of the state matter.
The attorney general, Barbara D. Underwood, in recent days sought a referral from the state Department of Taxation and Finance, which is needed to conduct such an inquiry and to prosecute any violations of state tax law it might uncover, the person said. Such requests are seldom denied. The state’s double jeopardy laws do not apply to tax crimes.
Cohen’s Washington lawyer, Lanny J. Davis, declined to comment.
Prosecutors in the district attorney’s office have reviewed the court papers containing the campaign finance charges and other federal crimes to which Cohen pleaded guilty on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the officials said. The papers provide some details about how two Trump Organization executives handled the reimbursement and recorded them as legal fees.
Manhattan prosecutors are focused on whether business records were falsified, one of the officials said. That could be charged as a low-level felony, or as a misdemeanor. It’s a misdemeanor for a person or company to make a false entry in a business record or cause one to be made, with intent to defraud. It becomes a felony if it is done to commit or conceal another crime.
One of the officials stressed that a state investigation into possible violations of state law could be complicated or delayed by three other open inquiries relating to Trump: The federal investigation into Cohen; the inquiry by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election; and a lawsuit that the state attorney general has brought against the Trump Foundation, a charity.
Court papers in the federal case against Cohen said he ultimately received $420,000 from the Trump Organization to reimburse him for his $130,000 payment to Clifford. That is because the Trump Organization included money to cover his taxes on the $130,000, a bonus for him and reimbursement for other campaign expenses.
The company, according to the court papers, accounted for the payment as legal expenses and Cohen issued phony monthly invoices for $35,000 “pursuant to retainer agreement.”
If Vance decides to proceed, it would not be the first time he investigated members of the Trump family. He was faulted for not pursuing charges against Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., who were under criminal investigation in 2012 over allegations that they misled buyers interested in the Trump SoHo condominium project.