Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to felony campaign finance violations, bank fraud and tax evasion in connection with hush payments to two women on behalf of Mr. Trump, an admission that implicated the president.
Cohen, who was part of Mr. Trump’s loyal inner circle at the Trump Organization for more than a decade, admitted that he violated federal campaign finance law at the direction of a candidate for federal office for the purpose of influencing an election. He did not name Mr. Trump specifically during the guilty plea to eight charges before senior U.S. District Judge William Pauley III in Manhattan.
“He stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election,” Mr. Davis said in a statement. “If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”
Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani wasn’t buying that claim.
“There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the president in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen. It is clear that, as the prosecutor noted, Mr. Cohen’s actions reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time,” he said.
At the same hour as Cohen was pleading guilty in New York City, a federal jury in Virginia convicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of eight charges of filing false tax returns and bank fraud. The left-leaning tabloid New York Daily News published photographs of both men on its front page Wednesday with the headline, “All the President’s Henchmen.”
Legal analysts say Cohen’s plea agreement is more troublesome legally for the president because it implicates him in federal campaign finance crimes.
The bank fraud charges stem from Cohen’s application for a home equity line of credit that he said he tapped to pay $130,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels a few weeks before the presidential election in 2016. The porn star, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, said she had a brief sexual encounter with Mr. Trump in 2006.
The campaign violation deals with Cohen’s buying the rights to the story of Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also claims to have had an affair with Mr. Trump. The rights to her story were sold to the National Enquirer before the election but never published.
Robert Khuzami, deputy U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Cohen obtained the home equity line of credit at the center of the Daniels payment by failing to disclose $14 million in debt on his loan application.
Mr. Khuzami said the campaign finance violations were committed “for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election.” He, too, avoided speaking Mr. Trump’s name.
“He worked to pay money to silence two women who had information that he believed would be detrimental to the 2016 campaign and to the candidate,” Mr. Khuzami said.
Prosecutors said Cohen evaded paying about $1.3 million in federal taxes by failing to report about $4.1 million in income from 2012 to 2016, including interest payments from a personal loan and income from his taxi medallion business.
Cohen admitted to five counts of tax evasion, one charge of making false statements to influence lending, one charge of unlawful corporate campaign contribution during the period of June to October 2016, and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution at the request of a candidate or a campaign.
Cohen faces a prison sentence of up to five years and three months. The plea does not include any agreement to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller, who had referred the case to federal prosecutors in New York.
As Cohen was pleading guilty, the president was boarding Air Force One in suburban Maryland en route to a campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia. He ignored reporters’ shouted questions about his former attorney and gave them a thumbs-up.
The White House had no comment.
Mr. Giuliani said the guilty plea was a positive development for the president’s potential legal jeopardy in Mr. Mueller’s Russia investigation. He told Fox News that the plea deal and sentencing agreement suggest that Cohen did not agree to cooperate with the special counsel.
Decades-old guidance from Justice Department officials has held that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, warned Mr. Trump not to consider pardons for either of his former top advisers.
“I understand the president is on his way to a rally,” he said of the president’s campaign event. “He’d better not talk about pardons for Paul Manafort or Michael Cohen tonight or any time in the future.”
Mr. Khuzami said Cohen sought reimbursement for the money by submitting phony invoices “to the candidate’s company” for “services rendered” in 2017.
“Those invoices were a sham,” he said. “It was simply a means to obtain reimbursement for the unlawful campaign contribution. These are very serious charges and reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over an extended period of time.”
Cohen’s sentencing has been set for Dec. 12. The judge set his bail at $500,000.
“As his longtime lawyer and ‘fixer,’ Cohen was at the center of Trump’s inner circle, and today he admitted to breaking the law at Trump’s direction in order to influence the 2016 presidential election,” he said. “The seriousness of this development cannot be overstated. The culture of corruption that Donald Trump brings with him everywhere is a disgrace to the presidency and a threat to our democracy.”
The investigation of Cohen blasted into public view in April when FBI agents raided his office and home in New York, seizing millions of pages of documents. Mr. Trump reacted angrily and called the raid a “disgraceful situation.”
In July, it became apparent that Cohen was considering a deal that might put him in legal conflict with president. After hiring Mr. Davis, he released a portion of a taped phone conversation with Mr. Trump discussing a possible payment to Ms. McDougal.
Ms. Clifford has sued the president for what she said was a violation of a nondisclosure agreement about their affair. Her high-profile attorney, Michael Avenatti, said Tuesday that Cohen’s guilty plea will enable him to pursue testimony from Mr. Trump “under oath about what he knew, when he knew it and what he did about it.”
Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.