Trump's ex-lawyer pleads guilty, implicates him in campaign finance violations
On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to violating campaign-finance laws and other charges. Although he didn't take Trump by name, but Cohen implied that Trump had directed him to pay hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and a former Playboy model, in a bid to protect Trump's White House bid. Here are the details.
According to BBC, Cohen pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion, one count of making false statements to a financial institution, one count of wilfully causing an unlawful corporate contribution, and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution at a candidate/campaign's request. Cohen added that he had been directed by "a candidate for federal office" to break election laws.
During court proceedings on Tuesday, Cohen also said that he had paid hush money to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, referred to as "Woman-1" and an "adult film actress", on the directions of the aforementioned "candidate", presumed to be Trump. Both women had claimed to have had an affair with Trump, and Daniels is currently suing both Trump and Cohen.
The court hearing ended with Cohen getting released for a bail amount of $500,000. Notably, Cohen is facing an expected prison sentence of four to five years, which will be determined during his sentencing, scheduled for December 12. Cohen reportedly left the court teary-eyed and walked to a black SUV amid chants of "Lock him up!" from bystanders.
"Today he [Cohen] 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," said Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, in an interview after the hearing.
Cohen's plea comes after months of scrutiny from federal investigators who, on a tip from special counsel Robert Mueller's team, raided Cohen's hotel room, home, and office in April and seized several documents. In May, Cohen, who had once said that he would "take a bullet" for Trump, left his post as his personal lawyer. The President has distanced himself with Cohen ever since.
Back in July, Trump had tweeted that Cohen had been "trying to make up stories to get himself out of an unrelated jam." But, the President had nothing to say following Cohen's admissions. Even the White House declined to comment. His current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, however, responded with a generic statement, adding that Cohen's actions "reflected a pattern of lies."
Although whether and when a President can be prosecuted remains a dispute, Cohen's admission marks the first time any Trump associate has implicated him in an open court. Additionally, the development comes at a time when Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was convicted of eight financial crimes in the first trial to come out of the Mueller probe on Russian election influence.
The admission that Trump directed violations of federal election law itself is politically explosive, not to mention the public fallout of the hush money scandal. Yet, it could get worse for Trump. With Cohen increasingly becoming adversarial towards the President, special counsel Robert Mueller's probe (that is investigating allegations of Russian influence in Trump's victory) could extract interesting information from the lawyer in prison.