Michael Cohen’s Lawyer Says Trump Directed Him to ‘Commit a Crime’

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer Michael D. Cohen admitted he made illegal campaign contributions at the behest of Trump, Cohen’s lawyer said after he pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations.

The admission dealt a blow to Trump, coming just as a jury in Virginia found his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, guilty of tax and bank fraud charges. While Trump’s name wasn’t mentioned at the Cohen hearing, the crimes he admitted to -- in particular that he made a $130,000 payment to someone at the candidate’s direction to silence them -- match the money Cohen paid to porn actress Stephanie Clifford shortly before the 2016 election to keep quiet about an affair she claimed to have had with Trump years earlier. Cohen also admitted that he participated in a scheme to pay $150,000 to a second woman, Karen McDougal, to keep her story out of the press.

Michael Cohen’s Lawyer Says Trump Directed Him to ‘Commit a Crime’

Lawyer Says Trump Directed Cohen to Commit Crime (6:16 p.m.)

Lanny Davis, one of Cohen’s lawyers, issued a statement after the plea saying that Trump directed Cohen to “commit a crime.”

"Michael Cohen took this step today so that his family can move on to the next chapter,” Davis said in a statement. “This is Michael fulfilling his promise made on July 2 to put his family and country first and tell the truth about Donald Trump. 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. If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”

Michael Cohen’s Lawyer Says Trump Directed Him to ‘Commit a Crime’
Lanny Davis@LannyDavis
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. If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?

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Trump’s Lawyer Says No Allegation Against President (6:05 p.m.)

The president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, noted after the guilty plea that Trump is not accused of breaking the law.

"There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen. It is clear that, as the prosecutor noted, Mr. Cohen’s actions reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time,” Giuliani said. 

Plea Agreement Outlines Case Against Cohen (5:19 p.m.)

Cohen pleaded guilty to failure to report personal income taxes for the five-year period beginning in 2012. He also admitted to making false statements to a financial institution tied to a credit decision around February 2015, to willfully causing an unlawful corporate contribution from at least June 2016 to October 2016, and to making an excessive campaign contribution on October 27, 2016, according to his plea agreement.

Khuzami, the prosecutor who oversaw the Cohen investigation, said after the hearing, "The message is that we are here, that the we are a nation of laws, and that the essence of this case is about justice and an equal playing field for all persons in the eyes of the law. And that is a lesson Mr. Cohen learned today, and it is a very harsh one."

Khuzami didn’t respond to a question about the identity of the candidate who directed Cohen to make the payments.

Cohen Hearing Ends (4:52 p.m.)

Cohen was released on $500,000 bond, cosigned by his wife and a second person. The judge set sentencing for Dec. 12. Prosecutors plan to make a statement outside the courtroom.

Cohen Payment Was to Hide Alleged Affairs: U.S. (4:47 p.m.)

The prosecutor told the judge the purpose of the payments was to ensure that the individuals did not disclose "alleged affairs with the candidate." Besides the $130,000 payment, Cohen admitted to making an illegal contribution of $150,000, which was how much McDougal received from the National Enquirer’s publisher to quash her story.

At no time was the candidate’s name mentioned.

Cohen Acted for Candidate in Violating Campaign Law (4:43 p.m.)

In acknowledging the charges against him, Cohen said he was directed to violate campaign law at the direction of a candidate for federal office. At the same candidate’s direction, he said he paid $130,000 to somebody to keep them quiet, which was later repaid by the candidate. He didn’t identify the candidate or the person who was paid, but those facts match Cohen’s payment to Clifford and Trump’s repayment.

Cohen Emotional as Judge Discusses Sentence (4:37 p.m.)

Cohen was shaking head and appeared to be holding back emotions as judge reviews possible sentence. Cohen faces a likely prison sentence of 46 to 63 months, the judge said.

Cohen charged with eight counts (4:31 p.m.)

Cohen is charged with eight counts: evading personal income taxes, making an unlawful corporate campaign contribution, making a false statement to a financial institution, and making an excessive campaign contribution in October 2016.

Cohen could still meet with prosecutors: experts (4:24 p.m.)

There could be several reasons for Cohen to plead guilty without a cooperation deal, according to former prosecutors.

Harry Sandick, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan said it’s possible that federal prosecutors don’t consider his information valuable or view him as a worthy witness.

“It could mean that they don’t need him or don’t trust him, or just aren’t ready to cut the deal yet,” said Sandick, now a defense attorney at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP.

It’s still possible that Cohen could meet with prosecutors after the current case is resolved through his guilty plea, said Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan who isn’t involved in the case.

"That would be unusual, but it’s possible," Rocah said. "There is also the possibility that he is separately speaking with Mueller about other topics.”

It’s also possible that Cohen could be subpoenaed after he is sentenced in this case, she said.

Cohen Intends Plead Guilty, Lawyer Tells Judge (4:17 p.m.)

U.S. District Judge William Pauley was told by prosecutors at the start of the hearing that Cohen will plead guilty on eight counts. He was also told that there is a plea agreement between the defense and the prosecution. The hearing got underway with Cohen being told of his rights.

Rosenstein made aware of Cohen’s plea deal (4:08 p.m.)

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was consulted and made aware of Cohen’s plea deal by federal prosecutors in New York but he didn’t have to approve it, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Justice Department’s Tax Division, as well as the IRS, approved the tax-related charges, the person said.

The plea deal does not include a cooperation agreement and indicates that New York prosecutors don’t see any additional value in trying to reach such a deal with Cohen, the person said.

Cohen Arrives in Manhattan federal court (4:02 p.m.)

Michael Cohen arrived at court wearing a dark suit and a gold tie. Sitting in the front row at the federal courthouse are senior officials from the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office, including Robert Khuzami, second in charge of the Manhattan office, who is overseeing the Cohen investigation.