NEW YORK • Federal prosecutors have said Mr Donald Trump directed illegal payments to ward off a potential sex scandal that threatened his chances of winning the White House in 2016, putting the weight of the Justice Department behind accusations previously made by his former lawyer.
Michael Cohen had said that as the election neared, Mr Trump directed payments to two women who claimed to have had affairs with him. But in a new memorandum last Friday arguing for a prison term for Cohen, prosecutors in Manhattan said he had "acted in coordination and at the direction of" an unnamed individual, clearly referring to Mr Trump.
In another filing, prosecutors for the special counsel investigating Russia's interference in the election said an unnamed Russian offered Cohen "government level" synergy between Russia and Mr Trump's campaign in November 2015. That was months before other approaches detailed in indictments secured by prosecutors.
And in a separate case last Friday, the special counsel, Mr Robert Mueller, accused Paul Manafort, Mr Trump's campaign chairman, of lying about his contacts with an individual they accuse of ties to Russian intelligence, and about his interactions with Trump administration officials after he was indicted on criminal charges.
Together, the filings laid bare the most direct evidence to date linking Mr Trump to potentially criminal conduct, and added to an already substantial case that Russia was seeking to sway the 2016 election in his favour.
Mr Trump yesterday said prosecutors had found no evidence of collusion with Russia despite a lengthy and costly probe. He tweeted: "After two years and millions of pages of documents (and a cost of over $30 million) no collusion!"
Russia has denied interfering in the election to help Mr Trump.
His offences strike at several pillars of our society and system of government: the payment of taxes; transparent and fair elections; and truthfulness before government and in business. Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1.
'' FEDERAL PROSECUTORS FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK, on former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen (above). "Individual-1" is how Mr Trump is referred to in the document.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: "Mr Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr Cohen is no hero."
She also tried to distance Mr Trump from the claims against Manafort, who was convicted on financial fraud and conspiracy charges unrelated to his work for the Trump campaign. Mr Trump has repeatedly defended Manafort as a "brave man" and dangled the possibility of a pardon for his 10 felonies, which are likely to result in a prison term of at least 10 years.
The revelations came in multiple filings by federal prosecutors for the Southern District of New York and by Mr Mueller. Their work intersected because the two teams have charged Cohen with crimes and he had sought to cooperate with both of them.
The prosecutors in New York mounted a scathing attack on Cohen's character. They rejected his plea to avoid a prison term, saying he had "repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends".
They argued that he deserved a "substantial" prison sentence that, giving him some credit for his cooperation, could amount to just under four years.
"His offences strike at several pillars of our society and system of government: the payment of taxes; transparent and fair elections; and truthfulness before government and in business," they wrote.
Cohen, 52, is to be sentenced this week for campaign finance violations, financial crimes and lying to Congress about the extent of Mr Trump's business dealings in Russia. Manhattan prosecutors emphasised that Cohen had implicated the President in payments to two women during the campaign to conceal affairs that they said they had had with Mr Trump.
"Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1," the prosecutors wrote. "Individual-1" is how Mr Trump is referred to in the document.
The prosecutors have said that a US$130,000 (S$178,000) payment to Ms Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress, violated campaign finance law prohibitions against donations of more than US$2,700 in a general election.
And a US$150,000 payment by American Media to silence former Playboy model Karen McDougal constituted an illegal corporate donation to Mr Trump's campaign, the prosecutors said.