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National
Federal prosecutors have evidence Trump involved in hush money payments, report says
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Federal prosecutors have evidence Trump involved in hush money payments, report says

Prosecutors Reportedly Have Evidence Of President Trump's Involvement In Hush Money Payments

Federal prosecutors have evidence Trump involved in hush money payments, report says

Federal prosecutors in New York have gathered evidence that shows President Donald Trump participated in so-called hush money payments made to women who claimed to have had sexual encounters with him before his presidency, according to The Wall Street Journal.

>> Read more trending news

Citing a slew of unidentified sources, the newspaper reported that Trump “intervened directly to suppress stories about his alleged sexual encounters with women,” coordinating with American Media Inc.’s chief executive, David Pecker. American Media publishes the National Enquirer.

The Journal reported the coordination might have violated campaign-finance laws.

Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate, claimed she had a nearly year-long affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007. The rights to her story were bought in August 2016 by American Media, the Journal reported, but her story was never published.

>> Cohen pleads guilty to 8 charges, says Trump told him to pay off Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal

Adult film star Stormy Daniels also said she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. She signed a non-disclosure agreement shortly before voters went to the polls for the 2016 presidential election in exchange for $130,000 from Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen.

Cohen pleaded guilty in August to multiple counts of tax evasion and a campaign finance violation related to payments to Daniels and McDougal. In court, Cohen said he paid a pair of women in coordination with an “unnamed candidate” to influence the election. Neither the president nor the women were named, though The Associated Press reported that the amounts of money paid and the dates of the transactions lined up with payments made to Daniels and McDougal.

>> Trump accuses ex-lawyer Michael Cohen of making up stories to get a deal

In court records, prosecutors said Cohen planned to buy the rights to McDougal’s story from American Media Inc. for $125,000, but the media company backed out of the deal before it could be finalized.

The Journal reported that Trump contacted Pecker directly when he learned in mid-2016 that McDougal was considering selling her story. American Media decided to buy it for $150,000 after learning that she was also in talks with ABC News, according to the newspaper.

>> Who is Karen McDougal? 6 things to know about the woman who says she was Trump’s mistress

The deal signed by McDougal included promises that she would appear as a model on two magazine covers and that American Media could publish health and fitness columns under her name, the Journal reported. The newspaper added that Pecker consulted with an election-law specialist before signing the deal to ensure that the payment would be justified for business and not amount to an illegal campaign contribution.

Under federal law, corporations are not allowed to give cash or in-kind contributions directly to candidates.

After the deal was signed, Cohen became concerned that Pecker might leave American Media and hatched a plan to buy all materials related to Trump that had been collected by the company over the years, according to the Journal.

>> Report: Trump, Cohen planned to buy National Enquirer 'dirt' before election

The New York Times reported in August that, before the 2016 presidential election, Trump and Cohen discussed buying “all the dirt on Mr. Trump that the National Enquirer and its parent company had collected on him, dating back to the 1980s.” The deal, which encompassed older stories from the tabloid and lists of sensitive sources and tips, among other things, was never finalized, the Times reported.

Trump and Cohen discussed the possibility of buying McDougal’s story and the rest of the materials collected by American Media in a recording seized by authorities in April, during a raid on Cohen’s office, according to the Journal. The recording was made in September 2016, two months before that year’s presidential election, CNN reported.

>> Michael Cohen secretly taped Donald Trump in 2016, attorney confirms

“I need to open up a company for the transfer of all that info regarding our friend, David,” Cohen can be heard saying in the tape. CNN reported that the David that Cohen referred to was most likely Pecker.

A few months later, after audio of Trump speaking on a hot mic on the set of “Access Hollywood” in 2005 surfaced, Cohen asked American Media to buy Daniels’ story, according to the Journal. However, Pecker declined because “he didn’t want his company to pay a porn star,” the newspaper reported.

>> Trump says he may sue over 'illegal' 2005 'Access Hollywood' video

When Trump learned Pecker wouldn’t buy Daniels’s story, he told Cohen to “get it done,” according to the Journal. The newspaper cited Cohen’s account to prosecutors.

Within days, Cohen and Daniels’s attorney had negotiated a non-disclosure agreement for Daniels, the Journal reported.

Trump has denied that he had affairs with either Daniels or McDougal. After Cohen pleaded guilty in August, the president accused his ex-attorney of “(making) up stories in order to get a ‘deal’” and praised his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, for refusing to “’break’” in a separate case stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling.

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  • Nearly four decades after an Atlanta man was convicted in connection with one of the most horrific serial murder cases in U.S. history, doubt still lingers about his guilt, even among some investigators and victims’ families. Wayne Bertram Williams has sat in a Georgia prison since January 1984, convicted of two murders, those of Nathaniel Cater, 27, and Jimmy Ray Payne, 21. Cater and Payne were both grown men, but many of the homicide victims Williams is suspected of killing were children. The three youngest victims were just 9 years old when they died. The oldest victim, John Porter, was 28.  All the dead were black.  On Thursday, more than 38 years after the end of the murders, Atlanta Mayor Kiesha Lance Bottoms and Police Chief Erika Shields announced that they are reopening the case and retesting any evidence that remains to put to bed, once and for all, speculation about Williams’ guilt in the crimes.  “It may be there is nothing left to be tested,” Bottoms said during a news conference. “But I do think history will judge us by our actions, and we will be able to say we tried.” >> Related story: Police to retest evidence in Atlanta child murder cases Bottoms, who said she was 9 years old when the crimes took place, recalled the terror the slayings unleashed on the community. She said she began thinking about taking another look at the case after meeting with Catherine Leach, whose 13-year-old son, Curtis Walker, was killed in March 1981. The mayor said applying modern technology to the testing of evidence will assure victims’ families that city and police officials “have done all that (they) can do do to make sure their memories are not forgotten and, in the truest sense of the word, to let the world know that black lives do matter.” Though Williams was tried for just two killings, the Atlanta Police Department attributed at least 22 of the other 29 known homicides to Williams and closed those cases. He is also a potential suspect in the case of a black child who went missing but was never found.  >> Read more trending news According to CNN, Williams’ convictions rested, in part, on dog hairs and a variety of fibers that prosecutors argued linked Williams’ home and car to both Cater’s and Payne’s bodies.  Williams, now 60, has maintained his innocence throughout the decades since his arrest and conviction.   “The bottom line is nobody ever testified or even claimed that they saw me strike another person, choke another person, stab, beat or kill or hurt anybody, because I didn’t,' Williams told CNN in a 2010 interview.  He said the panic in Atlanta over the serial killings put pressure on authorities to make an arrest. A black man had to be responsible, Williams continued, because arresting a white man would have sparked a race war. “Atlanta would’ve gone up in flames,” Williams told CNN.  Watch part of Thursday’s announcement in the Williams case, courtesy of WSB-TV in Atlanta. Forensic experts that same year found that human hair found on the body of Patrick Balthazar, 11, showed that Williams could not be excluded as the boy’s killer. CNN reported that Williams accused authorities of manipulating evidence against him. Retired FBI scientist Harold Deadman, who once served as the head of the agency’s DNA lab, told the news channel the findings in Balthazar’s case excluded 98 percent of the world’s population as the killer. Williams is in the other 2 percent, he said.  ‘A loud splash’ According to the FBI, the string of child murders that shocked Atlanta, and later the entire country, began July 21, 1979, with the killing of Edward Smith, 14, who was shot in the back. A second boy, 13-year-old Alfred Evans, was strangled to death just four days later. The killings continued, sometimes with multiple killings in a single month and others separated by as many as three months. Some victims were shot, stabbed or beaten, but the majority were strangled or otherwise asphyxiated.  The city of Atlanta asked the FBI for help in August 1980, by which time investigators were looking at six unsolved child murders and four missing persons cases in which foul play was suspected, according to FBI records. A task force had been established in the case, and FBI agents joined those efforts.  “Collectively, they focused on a dozen disappearances with several shared traits,” the FBI website says. “The victims were all young African-American males who vanished in broad daylight in fairly public locations. Their bodies were found in desolate areas. Their murders had no obvious motivation (in contrast, two other homicides from that period appeared to have been gang-related).  “These commonalities suggested a single killer.” As the murders continued unabated through 1980 and into early 1981, the killer began to change where he disposed of the bodies. By May 22, 1981, a total of six bodies had been recovered from the Chattahoochie River.  Another three victims were recovered from the waters or the banks of the South River, according to a 1981 article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Task force investigators decided to begin staking out 14 bridges in the Atlanta metropolitan area in case, hoping to catch the killer in the process of dumping another victim, according to the FBI.  One early morning in May, they stumbled upon Wayne Williams, then a 23-year-old freelance cameraman and wannabe record producer.  Around 2:52 a.m. May 22, an FBI agent, an Atlanta police officer and two police cadets stationed at the South Cobb Drive Bridge heard “a loud splash” in the river and spotted a car on the bridge. “(The) car sped across the bridge, turned around in a parking lot on the other side and sped back across the bridge. The vehicle was pursued and stopped,” the FBI website says. Williams, who was driving the car, told the officers he was searching for the location of an audition he had set up with a woman for the following day. Without probable cause to hold him, the task force agents had to let him go. Two days later, Cater’s naked body was recovered from the river near the bridge. Like so many previous victims, he had been asphyxiated, the Journal-Constitution reported. The task force turned its attention to Williams. “Investigators soon learned that his alibi was poor and that he had been arrested earlier that year for impersonating a police officer,” the FBI website says. “Later, he failed multiple polygraph examinations.” Williams was again questioned for 12 hours over June 3 and 4, the Journal-Constitution said. He later told the media he’d been accused of Cater’s death and called a “prime suspect” in the case. He was again let go, but the task force kept him under constant surveillance. Knowing he was being watched, Williams would sometimes taunt the agents, including having them follow him June 10, 1981, to the home of Lee Brown, who was then Atlanta’s public safety commissioner.  He also took task force agents on a chase the night of June 20, driving to the homes of both Brown and then-Mayor Maynard Jackson, the newspaper reported. Williams was arrested in Cater’s death the next day. He was convicted the following February in the deaths of Cater and Payne. According to the FBI, Williams’ conviction was based on “meticulous hair and fiber analysis and witness testimony.” After the trial, the task force concluded that there was evidence to link Williams to at least 20 additional homicides.  Never far from people’s minds -- or from controversy The case, though nearly 40 years old, has never been far from the minds of those who lost loved ones. It has also sparked public interest through the years. CNN reported that celebrities including Sammy Davis Jr. and the Jacksons performed at benefit concerts for the victims’ families. Williams spoke to CNN in 2010 in conjunction with a documentary hosted by Soledad O’Brien, and more recently, the case was the subject of a podcast, “Atlanta Monster.” Netflix’s second season of its original series “Mindhunter” is anticipated to touch upon the case and Deadline reported last month that producer Will Packer was making a three-part special on the case titled “The Atlanta Child Murders.”  Packer’s documentary is scheduled to begin airing Saturday on cable network Investigation Discovery. The case has continuously sparked controversy over the decades. Louis Graham, who was a member of the original task force that investigated the killings, reopened some of the cases in 2005, a year after he became chief of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office. “I never believed he did it,” Graham, who died in 2010, told the Journal-Constitution in 2005.  A total of five DeKalb County cases were reopened by Graham and his detectives: those of Balthazar, who was found strangled Feb. 13, 1981, in a wooded area; Walker, who was found asphyxiated March 6, 1981, in the South River; Joseph “Jo-Jo” Bell, 15, who was found asphyxiated April 19, 1981, in the South River; William Barrett, 17, who was found asphyxiated May 12, 1981, on a roadside; and Aaron Darnell Wyche, 10, who was found dead of a broken neck beneath a bridge June 24, 1980.  A sixth boy, Christopher Richardson, 11, vanished from DeKalb County, but his body was recovered June 9, 1980, in Fulton County.  Wyche’s father, Jesse Griffin, told the Journal-Constitution in 2005 that anyone with information about the killings needed to come forward. “It’s time for someone to step forward so the parents can rest a little bit more than they have been,” Griffin told the newspaper. “I’ve slept four hours at most since this incident happened. I’m hoping tonight I can have about two more hours added to that, knowing that this case is opened again and something’s going to be done about it.” The reopened DeKalb County cases were left to languish again a year later when Graham resigned after being caught on tape uttering a profanity-laced tirade, the Journal-Constitution reported.  Griffin is not the only parent of a victim who has doubted Williams’ guilt over the years.  Leach said Thursday that she had been let down over the years, not knowing for sure who killed her teen son.  “It seems like the Atlanta missing and murdered children have been forgotten in this city,” Leach said, according to CNN. “I don’t think it’s right for all these kids to be killed in this city, and nobody was concerned about it. “I want some closure. I want to know who killed Curtis.”
  • If you're planning a trip to the beach any time soon-- you may have a harder time reaching the sand. The City of Fernandina Beach has closed twelve of its beach walkovers, after an engineer deemed them to be unsafe. We’re told three of them will need to torn down and completely rebuilt.  A city spokesperson tell our partner Action News Jax, the damage isn't from any recent storms, but from just normal wear-and-tear since the walkovers were built three decades ago.  Beachgoers tell Action News Jax, they see the importance of safety, but it would have been nicer if the issues had been resolved sooner.  'Would prefer it happen in December or January when no one is here and get it over with. Hopefully it’s done when people return for the warmer time,' says Russ Hoff.  City leaders say they plan to meet Monday to discuss the needed repairs and lay out a timeline to get the work done.  The following walkovers are closed: 4N, 6N, 10, 27, 28, 29, 30, 35S, 36, 38, 39, and 40.
  • The Florida man accused of sending pipe bombs last year to several high-profile critics of President Donald Trump pleaded guilty Thursday in a Manhattan federal court. >> Read more trending news Cesar Sayoc appeared Thursday for a change of plea hearing before U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff.  Sayoc pleaded not guilty in November to a slew of charges after he was identified as the man suspected of mailing pipe bombs to targets including CNN, former President Barack Obama and actor Robert De Niro. >> Cesar Sayoc Jr.: What we know about the man arrested for sending package bombs Sayoc has been held without bail since his late-October arrest outside a South Florida auto parts store. He had been living in a van covered with stickers of Trump and showing images of some Trump opponents with crosshairs over their faces. Authorities launched an investigation in October after pipe bombs were mailed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and philanthropist George Soros. In the subsequent days, similar devices were mailed to several other prominent Trump critics, including U.S. Rep Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Democratic donor Tom Steyer. >> 2nd mail bomb to Tom Steyer recovered; suspect agrees to remain jailed, face charges in New York Authorities said Sayoc was linked to the packages after investigators found his fingerprints and DNA on some of them. Without a plea deal, Sayoc faced charges carrying a potential penalty of mandatory life in prison. A court filing last Friday didn't indicate which charge or charges the plea would involve. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Federal authorities and Butler Township police are investigating after an explosive device was placed inside a mailbox and detonated, according to police. >> Read more trending news  The explosive device, which police believe was a commercial-grade firework, was detonated and destroyed the mailbox sometime between 7 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m. Wednesday, Butler Township Police Chief John Porter said in a media release. Police did not say what road the incident occurred on but described the area as a rural part of the township.  “Since tampering with a mailbox is covered under federal law, federal authorities have been notified and are participating with us in a joint investigation,” Porter said. “Our initial investigation shows there is no indication of any type of hate or bias crime at this time.”  Authorities continue to investigate.
  • The sister of a Minnesota woman accused of killing a stranger to steal her identity in Florida last year is now facing criminal charges of her own after investigators say she grew angry at her intoxicated son and ran him over with her SUV.  Cynthia Lea Grund, 58, of Salem Township, was jailed on suspicion of second-degree assault and reckless driving. Olmstead County Jail records indicate she has since been released.  >> Read more trending news Olmstead County deputies were called Monday evening to Grund’s home, where they found her 37-year-old son, identified by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as Jason Finstad, suffering from significant lower body injuries, a Sheriff’s Office news release said. The man had been run over by a vehicle.  Investigators determined that Grund had run over her son with a 2004 Ford Explorer, the news release said.  According to detectives, Finstad was very intoxicated when he began walking down the rural driveway to go to a friend’s house. His mother and stepfather no longer wanted him staying at their home.  Grund drove down the driveway to pick Finstad up and drive him to the friend’s house, the news release said. Finstad refused to get in the SUV. “Why don’t you just run me over,” he allegedly said before lying in the driveway in front of Grund’s vehicle.  “Grund then backed the vehicle up and intentionally ran over the victim,” the news release said. “Grund admitted to her actions and at one point made a comment to the effect, ‘He didn't believe I would. He has been drinking all day. We gave him a chance.’” Grund was taken into custody at the scene. >> Related story: ‘Losing Streak Lois,’ killer grandma wanted in 2 slayings nabbed near U.S.-Mexico border Finstad underwent surgery at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester to repair damage to his pelvis. He also suffered head injuries in the incident, investigators said.  He was in fair condition as of Tuesday, the Star Tribune reported. According to the newspaper, Grund is the sister of Lois Ann Riess, 57, of Blooming Prairie, who is being held in Florida on a charge of first-degree murder in the April 5 slaying of Pamela Hutchinson, 59, of Bradenton.  Riess was arrested April 19 on Texas’ South Padre Island after a multistate string of crimes that investigators allege began with the shooting death of her husband, David Riess, 54, at their worm farm. Saturday will mark a year since David Riess’ decomposing body was found. Authorities said David Riess had been dead for several days by the time his body was discovered. The Star Tribune reported last month that a .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun found in Lois Riess’ Texas motel room matched shell casings found at the scene of her husband’s death. Dodge County investigators have turned their case over to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office for review.  Lois Riess, who authorities nicknamed “Losing Streak Lois” for her penchant for gambling, fled south to Florida -- stopping at a casino on the way. Riess’ abandoned Cadillac Escalade, which Minnesota investigators alleged she left the state in after gunning down her husband, was found in a park in Fort Myers, Florida.  Surveillance footage from a restaurant two blocks from Hutchinson’s borrowed timeshare condo showed the victim chatting with Riess at the bar on April 5, the day authorities believe she was shot to death. Hutchinson’s body was found four days later in the bathroom of the condo.  See the footage of Lois Riess chatting with Pamela Hutchinson below, courtesy of the Fort Myers News-Press.  Investigators believe Hutchinson was killed so Riess could assume her identity. They also believe Hutchinson was shot with the same gun that killed David Riess. According to Riess’ Florida indictment, Lois Riess stole credit cards, money, jewelry, sunglasses and other property from Hutchinson after she was killed. Surveillance footage from Hutchinson’s condo complex showed Riess walking into the parking lot, getting into Hutchinson’s Acura TL and driving away.  The indictment also alleged that Riess went to a Fort Myers bank and used Hutchinson’s identification to withdraw $5,000 from the dead woman’s account before leaving town. Riess was next spotted the following day at an Ocala Hilton hotel, where she used Hutchinson’s identification to check into a room, Lee County officials said. She stayed there the nights of April 6 and 7, according to investigators.  Surveillance footage from inside and outside the hotel showed both Riess and the stolen Acura. According to the News-Press, a white straw hat Riess wore in the footage belonged to Hutchinson.  While in Ocala, Riess is accused of withdrawing another $500 from Hutchinson’s bank account.  From there, Riess is accused of making her way west across the southeastern U.S., making several stops in Louisiana -- including at another casino -- before being seen driving the Acura around Corpus Christi, Texas. She attempted to get $200 from Hutchinson’s account at a gas station, but the effort failed, the News-Press reported.  Riess used her own ID to claim a $1,500 jackpot at a Louisiana casino, the newspaper reported.  Riess remained at large until April 19, when she was arrested on South Padre Island in Texas. Dodge County Sheriff Scott Rose said a man recognized Riess when she walked into a restaurant on the island, located about 25 miles from the Mexican border, and looked at a menu. Riess did not stay to eat at the restaurant, identified as Dirty Al’s Seafood, but the man called police to report the sighting. A South Padre Island police officer and a federal marshal responded to the area and spotted the white Acura that had been stolen from Hutchinson at another nearby restaurant, the Sea Ranch.  Riess was taken into custody as she sat at the bar inside, eating a meal and chatting with fellow patrons. She was subsequently extradited back to Florida to face charges in Hutchinson’s homicide.   Riess was indicted June 6 in the case, according to court records. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in Hutchinson’s slaying. 

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