Michael Cohen pleads guilty and says he broke campaign finance law at Trump's direction

  • Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, has reached a plea deal with prosecutors.
  • He entered guilty pleas to five counts of tax evasion, one count of making a false statement to a bank, one count of making an unlawful corporate contribution, and one count of making an illegal campaign finance contribution.
  • Cohen is the focus of a criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York into whether he violated campaign-finance laws, committed bank fraud or wire fraud, engaged in illegal lobbying, or participated in other crimes.

President Donald Trump’s former longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, struck a deal on Tuesday with prosecutors to plead guilty to eight federal crimes.

He entered guilty pleas to five counts of tax evasion, one count of bank fraud, one count of making an unlawful corporate contribution, and one count of making an illegal campaign finance contribution on October 27, 2016 – the day a $US130,000 payment to adult-film star Stormy Daniels was finalised.

During his plea entry, Cohen said he had made the illegal campaign and corporate contributions “at the direction of the candidate” and with the “purpose of influencing the election.”

He did not identify said candidate by name, but the criminal complaint, which refers to said candidate as “individual 1,” said that person became President of the United States in January 2017–meaning it can be only be President Donald Trump.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, did not immediately respond to Busines Insider’s request for comment.

“There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen,” Giuliani said in a later statement to the New York Times. “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.”

After entering his guilty plea, Cohen was released on a $US500,000 bond. He is set to be sentenced December 12.

Cohen is the focus of a criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York into whether he violated campaign-finance laws, committed bank fraud or wire fraud, engaged in illegal lobbying, or participated in other crimes.

“These are very serious charges that reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty,” said Deputy US Attorney Robert Khuzami in a press conference after Cohen’s hearing. “They are significant in their own right. They are particularly significant when done by a lawyer.”

How we got here

Stormy DanielsEthan Miller/Getty ImagesStormy Daniels.

The FBI raided Cohen’s home, hotel room, and office in April, seizing more than 4 million documents from Trump’s longtime lawyer.

Those documents then underwent an extensive, months-long review for claims of attorney-client privilege, a process that recently concluded. Only a fraction of the documents were protected by privilege, while the rest were handed over to the government for use in a potential prosecution of Cohen.

At the center of the investigation is the $US130,000 payment that Cohen facilitated to the porn star known as Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 presidential election to keep her quiet about her allegation of having a 2006 affair with Trump – an allegation Trump has denied. The FBI was looking for documents related to that payment and similar arrangements with other women.

Investigators have also taken interest in some of Cohen’s business dealings, particularly as they related to his once sprawling taxi business, The New York Times reported Sunday.

The Times reported that the Cohen investigation reached “the final stage,” with prosecutors weighing whether to file charges before the end of August.

How this could affect Trump

Michael Cohen and Donald TrumpDrew Angerer/Getty Images; Sean Gallup/Getty Images; Jenny Cheng/Business InsiderCohen and Donald Trump.

Mitchell Epner, an attorney at Rottenberg Lipman Rich who had previously served as a federal prosecutor in the US Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, told Business Insider in a Tuesday email that if Cohen reached a plea deal, “the most important question is whether it is a ‘cooperating’ plea deal.”

Epner later added that even if cooperation is not a part of this plea deal, it doesn’t rule out the possibility of him acting as a cooperating witness in the future.

“If Michael Cohen is not cooperating now, he likely will continue to try to get a cooperating plea agreement by providing substantial assistance to any prosecutor who will take it, SDNY or Special Counsel,” Epner told Business Insider in a subsequent email after news broke of the plea deal later on Tuesday.

Roland Riopelle, a partner at Sercarz & Riopelle who was formerly a federal prosecutor with the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, told Business Insider in an email Monday that the brief five-month delay between the FBI’s raids and potential charges signalled to him that “this may be a cooperation plea agreement.”

“If the matter was contested, the delay could be longer before charges were returned,” he said, adding that the recent “silence from Cohen and his lawyers is also something that weighs in favour of a cooperation deal.”

Senate intel committee says Cohen cooperated with their investigation

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Chairman Sen. Richard Burr and Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner put out a rare public statement on Tuesday after the announcement of the deal, disclosing that Cohen had cooperated with the committee’s investigation.

“We recently reengaged with Mr. Cohen and his team following press reports that suggested he had advance knowledge of the June 2016 meeting between campaign officials and Russian lawyers at Trump Tower,” they said.

They continued that Cohen testified before the committee that he didn’t know about the meeting before The New York Times reported it last summer. Cohen’s legal team told the committee his client stood by that testimony.

“We hope that today’s developments and Mr. Cohen’s plea agreement will not preclude his appearance before our Committee as needed for our ongoing investigation,” they wrote.

Michael Avenatti, Daniels’ attorney, tweeted Tuesday afternoon that the day’s developments “will permit us to have the stay lifted in the civil case & should also permit us to proceed with an expedited deposition of Trump under oath about what he knew, when he knew it, and what he did about it.”

“We will disclose it all to the public,” he tweeted.

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