Donald Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first of his criminal cases to go to trial.Michael Nagle/Pool/Getty

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The legal system has finally apprehended Individual-1, also known as Donald J. Trump.

When Trump’s historic trial for his scandalous payoff to a porn star commenced – making him the first ex-president to face trial for criminal offenses – New York Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan had to resolve some lingering legal matters before proceeding with the challenging process of jury selection. One of these issues revolved around the criminal case of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who, as per filings from federal prosecutors, violated the law at the request of someone identified as “Individual-1.”

Merchan’s immediate concern was how and if prosecutors in the office of New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg could discuss Cohen’s 2018 guilty plea for breaching election laws. Cohen was caught for illicitly contributing to Trump’s 2016 campaign with the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Trump. He is expected to be a crucial witness for Bragg.

The disagreements between both sides revolve around what should and shouldn’t be brought up during the trial regarding Cohen’s guilty plea. Trump’s attorneys aim to highlight Cohen’s other crimes (such as tax evasion, lying to a bank, and perjury before Congress) to undermine his credibility, but they prefer the jury not learn about Cohen’s plea related to the hush-money scheme as it could strengthen the argument that the payment to Daniels was unlawful. To win this case, Bragg’s team must demonstrate that Trump falsified financial records, specifically recording the $130,000 payment as a legitimate business expense for the Trump Organization, all to conceal a felony. Prosecutors want the jury to acknowledge that a federal court had previously declared the payment as a campaign finance violation. Trump’s defense is likely to dispute this, claiming the payment was not an election-related violation.

This ongoing debate serves as a reminder of a crucial detail often overshadowed by the Trump-Daniels saga: the federal authorities named Trump as an accomplice in Cohen’s crime.

In December 2018, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York submitted a document outlining Cohen’s guilty pleas. The document referred to Cohen’s facilitation of the payment to Daniels and a financial agreement between the National Enquirer and Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, to silence her about her alleged affair with Trump. Here’s a section from the document:

During the [2016] campaign, Cohen orchestrated two parallel arrangements to purchase the rights to stories from women who alleged affairs with Individual-1, ensuring the accounts remained undisclosed to prevent affecting the election. Cohen intended to influence the 2016 presidential election through both payments. He coordinated these actions with campaign members, following directions from Individual-1. As a result, the women refrained from revealing their stories to the press before the election.

Guided by Individual-1. This crucial line highlights Trump’s involvement in the criminal enterprise, as shown in other parts of the document where “Individual-1” is identified as Trump. Through this submission, federal authorities unambiguously stated that Trump and Cohen colluded in this illegal scheme.

Despite this revelation, the US Attorney’s Office didn’t pursue charges against Trump due to departmental guidelines against indicting a sitting president. By the time Trump left office, the federal inquiry into the hush-money payment had< a rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" href=""> halted. In his 2022 publication, Holding the Line, Geoffrey Berman, the former US Attorney for the Southern District, implied that the Trump administration attempted to hinder the investigation. Berman, however, wasn’t directly involved in this particular case.

Once again, Trump evaded consequences, while Cohen served prison time for a crime instigated by Trump but remained unscathed. Now, Trump’s connection to the payoff plays a pivotal role in his own criminal proceedings.

Before the trial, prosecutors contended that citing Cohen’s guilty plea wasn’t to insinuate Trump’s guilt but to bolster Cohen’s credibility by showing his admission of wrongdoing. Merchan approved this, with the condition that Bragg’s attorneys establish the proper groundwork. The judge instructed both sides to prepare jury statements emphasizing that no conclusions should be drawn about Trump’s culpability based on Cohen’s plea. Certainly, the more Bragg’s legal team brings Cohen’s case into play, the stronger their argument becomes and the lesser the chances of Individual-1 eluding justice once again.