Michael Cohen, former Trump lawyer, pleads guilty to campaign finance violations, bank fraud

August 21, 2018 GMT

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to campaign violations, bank fraud and tax evasion in connection with hush payments to two women on behalf of Mr. Trump.

Cohen, who was part of Mr. Trump’s inner circle at the Trump Organization for more than a decade, admitted in court that he violated federal campaign law at the direction of a candidate 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.

Cohen’s sentencing has been set for Dec. 12. The judge set his bail at $500,000.

He faces a prison sentence of up to five years and three months.

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.

The bank fraud charges stem from Cohen’s applications for a home-equity line of credit that he has since said he tapped to pay $130,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who alleges 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 alleges an affair with Mr. Trump. The rights to her story were sold to but never published by the National Enquirer.

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 lawyer and gave them a thumbs-up.

Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani said the guilty plea was actually a positive development for the president’s potential legal jeopardy in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. He told Fox News that the plea deal and sentencing agreement suggests that Cohen did not agree to cooperate with the special counsel.

At the same hour, a federal jury in Virginia convicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of eight charges of filing false tax returns and bank fraud.

In May, Mr. Giuliani called the $130,000 payment to Ms. Daniels “perfectly legal” and that Mr. Trump had repaid the money to Cohen.

Robert Khuzami, deputy U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, 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.

He said Cohen obtained the home-equity loan at the center of the Stormy Daniels case 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.

He 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.”