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House Democrats turn their attention to Donald Trump’s involvement in hush money payments

For all his talk about hiring the best people, a remarkable number of Donald Trump’s former campaign and White House staff have already been indicted by federal authorities. Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, Michael Cohen — the list of indicted conspirators is a who’s who of cheap mafioso knockoffs.

Not on that list: anyone from the Trump family tree.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller’s refusal to indict the president or his family is presented as favorable evidence by the White House and its allies to suggest Trump was somehow vindicated and acquitted of any wrongdoing. Not only did Mueller not acquit Trump, now it turns out the White House’s celebration for avoiding indictments may have been a bit premature.

House Democrats, back in session after the summer recess, are reportedly preparing to launch a comprehensive investigation into hush-money payments made on Trump’s behalf to at least two women — former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Both women say they had affairs with Trump.

Details of those payments were largely made public over a year ago, during the height of Mueller’s wide-ranging investigation. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, cooperated with the investigation and with lawmakers, outlining the setup he arranged to pay off Daniels to keep her from going public with her story. McDougal was given a similar financial arrangement by the owners of the National Enquirer.

Mueller’s team passed on its findings to federal prosecutors in Manhattan, who had jurisdiction over possible criminal charges. Cohen is currently serving a three-year prison sentence, but prosecutors declined to pursue any further criminal charges, even after Cohen testified under oath that Trump was the one who directed him to make the illegal payments.

Now, the House Judiciary Committee will pick up where federal prosecutors left off. According to the Washington Post, Democrats on the committee are preparing to schedule hearings on the matter and are eyeing possible witnesses to bring before Congress and answer questions about Trump’s involvement in the payments.

Perhaps most notable among the potential witnesses is David Pecker, the chairman and CEO of American Media Inc., which owns the National Enquirer. Pecker is a longtime Trump confidant and the architect of the tabloid’s “catch and kill” policy that resulted in the payout to McDougal.

In the weeks before the 2016 election, documents show, Cohen facilitated various conversations with Pecker, Trump, and National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard. The contents and timing of those messages and conversations were enough to prompt one FBI agent to posit that one purpose of those communications was to prevent Daniels from going public.

Trump’s knowledge of and possible involvement in the Stormy Daniels hush money drama is still under debate. First, the White House denied Trump had an affair with Daniels. After the Wall Street Journal broke the news of the hush money payments, Trump himself denied having any knowledge of the financial arrangement. Then his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani acknowledged that the president had reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 he paid Daniels.

Depending on what the Judiciary Committee unearths, Donald Trump might not be out of the woods just yet when it comes to legal repercussions.