Donald Trump’s self-described “fixer” and personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal charges, including violating campaign finance laws with a hush-money payment to two women who claimed to have slept with President Trump. Cohen appeared in New York’s federal court Tuesday after surrendering himself to the custody of the FBI earlier in the day.
Cohen, dressed in a black suit, and visibly shaken, asked the judge if he could stand before the packed courtroom to read his plea. His voice occasionally wavered as he pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion, one count of making false statements to a lender, one count of making an illegal campaign contribution, and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution. He faces a maximum sentence of 65 years in prison and up to $1.6 million in fines. He will also have to forfeit any property derived from the false statements he made to the lender.
In a startling admission, Cohen pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws at the “direction of a candidate for federal office.” Those charges concerned two payments — one for $150,000 and another for $130,000 — which were made to two unnamed individuals who Cohen said had information that was “damaging” to the unnamed candidate.
Cohen also admitted he had concealed $4 million in unreported income between the tax years 2012-2014.
Cohen does not appear to have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the Mueller probe in exchange for his testimony, indicating he may have little to offer as a witness.
“His baggage, his potential testimony and his believability just didn’t provide enough value to prosecutors to make it worth giving him a benefit in return,” said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor. “The total value of what he’s offering apparently isn’t enough.”
Cohen said one payment for $150,000 — the amount paid to Playboy model Karen McDougal — was made in coordination with “the CEO of a media company.” He said made the second payment for $130,000 — the amount paid to porn star Stormy Daniels — on his own, but said he was later reimbursed. Both payments, Cohen said explicitly, were made “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office” who was concerned about “damaging” information getting out before the election.
“I used a company under my control to make the payment” Cohen told the judge, adding that “the monies used were later repaid by the candidate. ”
Cohen’s admission regarding the payments he made to adult film star Stormy Daniels, appear to implicate Trump in the crime, legal analysts and close observers of the case quickly pointed out.
The judge set bail at $500,000 for Cohen, and a sentencing date of Dec. 12. Under the terms of his bail package, his travel will be limited to certain districts of New York, Illinois, Florida and Washington D.C. The judge overseeing the proceedings rejected a provision that would have allowed Cohen’s legal team to work directly with prosecutors to approve additional travel, ruling that any such requests would have to be authorized by the court.
Cohen barely spoke outside of his five minute confession, limiting the majority of his replies to "yes your honor" and "no your honor." When asked about the extent of his education, he answered simply, "Law."
"Today he 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 attorney Lanny Davis, in a statement. "If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn't they be a crime for Donald Trump?"
Cohen told the judge earlier in the proceedings that on his last night as a free man he had enjoyed a glass of Glenlivet 12 year old single malt Scotch with dinner, which he noted was “not my usual custom.”
At one point during the proceedings, after he was reminded that by pleading guilty he would lose his voting rights and rights to own a firearm, his attorney gave him a reassuring pat on the back.
Cohen’s appearance in New York Federal Court came just minutes after another former close adviser to the president, Paul Manafort, was found guilty on 8 of the 18 criminal counts he faced in the tax and bank fraud trial in Alexandria, Virginia.
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has already launched a full-on campaign to discredit Cohen, branding him a “scumbag” who’s “lied all his life.” But Giuliani had only weeks before called Cohen an “honest, honorable lawyer.”
And as Trump’s team seeks to undercut Cohen’s claims by tarnishing his reputation, they’ll face questions about why a person they now call so evidently untrustworthy could have been one of Trump’s most trusted deputies for so long.
Michael Avenatti, the attorney for one of those women, adult film actress Stormy Daniels, said news of the Cohen plea deal was a bad omen for the president, and threw shade on Giuliani’s bombastic approach to dealing with Cohen.
“Trump is in a lot of trouble,” he wrote to VICE News in a text message. “He and Giuliani completely misplayed this.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to comment on Manafort or Cohen. “I don’t have anything for you on that,” Sanders told reporters Tuesday afternoon.