Michael Cohen has been under federal investigation for most of 2018. On Tuesday, he agreed to plead guilty to eight counts of bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations. The deal prosecutors reached with President Trump’s former personal attorney includes jail time and a fine. According to the New York Times, the agreement will not require Cohen to cooperate with federal investigators.
Shortly after the news was reported, Cohen appeared in a Manhattan federal court to sign the plea deal. He admitted that his pre-election payment to bury the story of Trump’s alleged affair with former Playboy model Karen McDougal was made “at direction of the candidate,” as was the $130,000 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. Trump has said previously that he had no knowledge of the payment. Cohen also admitted that the payments were made with the intention of influencing the election. He was released on $500,000 bond, and is set to be sentenced on December 12th.
*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
Though the guilty plea doesn’t require Cohen to cooperate with federal authorities at this time, he may do so in the future. If Mueller decides Cohen has something substantial to add to the Russia investigation, he could offer to reduce Cohen’s sentence in exchange for his cooperation. NBC reports that the plea deal includes a recommendation of three-to-six years of jail time. (The maximum sentence on all counts is 65 years.)
As of now, however, all prosecutors are getting is a guilty plea. This is still plenty damaging to Trump, who, for a president, has a curious history of surrounding himself with criminals. Just under 250 miles south at almost the exact same moment, Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty of eight counts that include bank and tax fraud.
Since the raid on his apartment, office and hotel room in April, investigators have scrutinized Cohen’s business practices, as well as the role he played in arranging hush money payments to multiple women with whom Trump allegedly had affairs. One of those women is adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels. Clifford is represented by the Always-on-TV Michael Avenatti, who seemed to be pleased with the news.
The developments of today will permit us to have the stay lifted in the civil case & should also permit us to proceed with an expedited deposition of Trump under oath about what he knew, when he knew it, and what he did about it. We will disclose it all to the public.
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) August 21, 2018
One of the other known women is McDougal. Last month, Cohen’s team leaked a tape of their client and the future president discussing a payment made to bury the story of Trump’s alleged relationship with McDougal. As was the case with the $130,000 Cohen paid Clifford through a shell company, the funds to keep Trump’s alleged affair with McDougal under wraps could have been in violation of campaign finance law. A few days after the tape was released, CNN reported that Cohen planned to tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller that Trump knew in advance about his son’s Trump Tower meeting with a delegation of Kremlin-connected figures to secure damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Trump subsequently attacked Cohen on Twitter, while Trump’s legal counsel Rudy Giuliani said on CNN that Cohen “has lied all his life.”
The Trump campaign, two years later:
National Security Adviser: Guilty
Foreign Policy Adviser: Guilty
Personal Attorney: Guilty
Deputy Campaign Chair: Guilty
Campaign Chair: Heading to prison?
— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) August 21, 2018
Despite the pattern of criminality, Trump has repeatedly decried the Mueller investigation for destroying the lives of those he believes to be “good people,” including Cohen and Manafort. On Monday, he tweeted that Mueller’s investigators “are enjoying ruining people’s lives and REFUSE to look at the real corruption on the Democrat side.”
Still looking into the pre-election relationship between Russia and Team Trump is the Senate Intelligence Committee. After Cohen’s plea deal was reported, Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (R-VA) appeared together to stress their desire for Cohen to appear before the committee as needed. Burr also noted that the committee had recently “re-engaged” with Cohen in an effort to gather more information on the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
Senate Intel Committee Chairman @SenatorBurr: "We hope that today's developments in Mr. Cohen's plea agreement will not preclude him from an appearance before our committee as needed for [the] ongoing investigation." https://t.co/5BWz4Tj9nA pic.twitter.com/FihXYFXTS5
— Fox News (@FoxNews) August 21, 2018
While Trump has attempted to distance himself from others who have pled guilty, it will be hard to do this in regard to Cohen. The president’s former attorney was deeply enmeshed in the president’s business dealings for years, and has now admitted to criminality. The plea deal is a damming development for the president, especially considering Cohen’s admission that his campaign finance violations were carried out at the direction of “the candidate.”
Trump has not commented on Cohen’s guilty plea, but is scheduled to appear at at campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia, Tuesday night.
This post will be updated as more details emerge.