US president Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, has pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations and other charges, saying he made payments to influence the 2016 election at the direction of a candidate for federal office.
The 51-year old Cohen who appeared in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday, pleaded guilty to five counts of tax fraud, one of bank fraud and two counts of violating campaign finance laws. He could get about four to five years in prison at the sentencing on December 12.
The guilty plea came almost at the same time as former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty of eight financial crimes, including tax evasion and bank fraud.
Questioned by the federal judge, Cohen said he had paid sums of $130,000 and $150,000 each to two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump, acting at his boss’s request, in a bid to buy their silence “with the purpose of influencing the election”.
Cohen did not specify the women’s names, but the sums correspond to a payment known to have been made to adult film star Stormy Daniels just before the election to silence her claims of a one-night stand with Trump – and another destined for former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
He also did not name Trump, but said was “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office”, and the other was made “under direction of the same candidate”.
In the charging documents, a press release and comments outside the court, prosecutors did not go as far as Cohen did in open court in pointing the finger at the president. Prosecutors said Cohen acted “in coordination with a candidate or campaign for federal office for purposes of influencing the election.”
Under federal law, an expenditure to protect a candidate’s political fortunes can be construed as a campaign contribution, subject to federal laws that bar contributions from corporations and set limits on how much can be donated.
After the court hearing, which ended with Cohen released on $500,000 bail, the lawyer wiped away tears as he gazed out a court window.