Longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in New York following investigations into payments he made to several women who claim to have had affairs with President Trump, and allegations of fraud in connection to his taxi business.
According to New York Daily News reporter Stephen Brown, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts: five counts of tax evasion, from 2012 to 2016; one count of making a false statement to a financial institution; one count of “willful cause of unlawful corporate contribution” between June and October 2016; and one count of “excessive campaign contribution” from October 27, 2016.
Appearing before a judge on Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that Cohen admitted to violating campaign finance law “at the direction of” and “unnamed candidate,” and acting “for the purpose of influencing [the] election.”
He faces a maximum sentence of 65 years in prison for all counts.
*COHEN SAYS HE VIOLATED CAMPAIGN LAW AT DIRECTION OF CANDIDATE
*COHEN SAYS HE ACTED FOR PURPOSE OF INFLUENCING ELECTION
*COHEN: VIOLATED CAMPAIGN LAW AT DIRECTION OF UNNAMED CANDIDATE
— Justin Sink (@justinsink) August 21, 2018
Counts 1-5. Tax evasion 2012-2016
Count 6 false statement to financial institution Feb 2015-April 2016
Count 7 willful cause of unlawful corporate contribution June 2016-Oct. 2016
Count 8 excessive campaign contribution on Oct. 27, 2016
— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) August 21, 2018
The plea bargain, first reported by ABC News earlier in the afternoon, came as Cohen was facing increased pressure over the tax fraud allegations, as well as criticism over his role in arranging hush payments to two women — adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — on behalf of Trump, in the days leading up to the 2016 election. Legal analysts previously suggested Cohen could face charges for campaign finance violations, in relation to those payments.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that Cohen was also under investigation by federal prosecutors over his beleaguered taxi business. Cohen and his wife own 32 taxi medallions in New York City and 22 in Chicago, and in recent years, prosecutors believed Cohen may have underreported the revenue from those medallions to avoid paying taxes on them. Simultaneously, sources familiar with the investigation claimed Cohen had overinflated his income on loan documents to secure additional funding.
CNN reported Tuesday afternoon that Cohen was expected to plead guilty to both campaign finance violations and tax and bank fraud. The outlet cited three sources familiar with the deal, which reportedly includes “jail time and a substantial monetary fine.”
Rumors of a plea deal between Cohen and prosecutors from the Southern District of New York first surfaced earlier Tuesday morning, after two people familiar with the $20 million tax fraud investigation told the Associated Press that Cohen was ready to cooperate with the government in exchange for a lesser punishment.
According to the AP, Cohen was seen entering his attorneys’ offices Tuesday morning.
A CNN report later in the day, by contrast, claimed government cooperation was not part of Cohen’s plea deal, and that the lawyer was pleading guilty to “avoid the spectacle and uncertainty of a trial.”
Cohen’s decision to plead guilty to campaign finance violations leaves Trump in a vulnerable position and leads prosecutors directly back to the president himself.
Cohen has admitted to paying Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep her quiet about an affair she claims to have had with Trump in 2006, shortly after his marriage to his current wife, first lady Melania Trump. Daniels says she and her lawyer entered into an arrangement with Cohen in October 2016, and claims she was paid to keep her from going public about the alleged affair, which may have damaged Trump’s shot at the White House.
Cohen and Trump also discussed a similar payment to former Playboy model McDougal in the days leading up to the election. In August 2016, American Media Inc. (AMI) — whose chairman is a friend of Trump’s — paid McDougal $150,000 by for exclusive rights to her account of her alleged affair with Trump. However the outlet never published the story, employing an industry practice known as catch-and-kill to bury McDougal’s claims before they could go public.
In an audio recording leaked to CNN in July, Cohen and Trump can be overheard discussing a payment to AMI to purchase McDougal’s story. Ultimately, the transaction fell through.
FBI agents raided Cohen’s home, office, and hotel room this past April, in search of documents related to the two payments, as well as tax documents, business records, and audio recordings, among other things. The raid was instigated following a referral from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, and potential obstruction by the president and his associates, and was reportedly authorized by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, “a target of Trump’s frequent ire over the Russia investigation,” the Daily Beast notes.
Cohen appeared in court to register his plea agreement at 4 p.m. Eastern Time. He reportedly surrendered to the FBI ahead of that court appearance.
He has since been released on $500,000 bond. He will be sentenced on December 12.