New York, Aug 22 (IANS) Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts, admitting that the US President had directed him to arrange payments to two women during the 2016 campaign to keep them from speaking publicly about their affairs with him.
The charges against Cohen, an attorney for Trump until earlier this year and a member of his inner circle throughout his presidential campaign, bring an end to a months-long investigation by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Cohen acknowledged the illegal payments while pleading guilty to breaking campaign finance laws and other charges, a litany of crimes that revealed both his shadowy involvement in Trump’s circle and his own corrupt business dealings, reports The New York Times.
He told a judge in the US District Court in Manhattan on Tuesday that the payments to the women were made “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office”, implicating the President in a federal crime.
“I participated in this conduct, which on my part took place in Manhattan, for the principal purpose of influencing the election” for president in 2016, Cohen said.
Though Trump himself isn’t named, the court filing refers to an Individual-1, who by January 2017 had become President of the US.
The counts against Cohen included tax fraud, false statements to a bank and campaign finance violations tied to his work for Trump, including payments Cohen made or helped orchestrate that were designed to silence women who claimed affairs with the then-candidate, CNN reported.
Though not named in the plea deal filed in court, the women whom Cohen helped silence were two who have since gone public with their claims of sexual encounters or affairs with Trump: a porn star named Stephanie Clifford, who goes by the stage name Stormy Daniels, and a former Playboy model named Karen McDougal.
Trump has denied both the claims.
In the case of Clifford, Cohen arranged a non-disclosure agreement for which he paid her $130,000, and for that Cohen was charged with making an excessive campaign contribution, since the payment was made in service of the campaign and exceeded the federal limit.
For McDougal, Cohen and the CEO of a media company “worked together to keep an individual from publicly disclosing” information that would have been harmful to a candidate, saying the individual received $150,000.
In 2016, American Media Inc. paid McDougal $150,000 for a contract that effectively silenced her claims of an affair with Trump.
Trump’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said in a statement after Cohen’s plea: “There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President in the government’s charges against Cohen.”
Cohen NOW faces up to 65 years in prison. Judge William H. Pauley set a sentencing date for December 12.
Cohen’s confession came shortly before another blow to the President, his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted in his financial fraud trial in Virginia.
The special counsel, Robert Mueller, had built a case that Manafort hid millions of dollars in foreign accounts to evade taxes and lied to banks to obtain millions of dollars in loans.