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Michael Cohen Pleads Guilty, Says Trump Directed Him to Pay Off Women

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime former personal attorney, pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts in federal court on Tuesday, including campaign finance violations related to payments made to women who claim to have had affairs with Trump.

As he was questioned by a judge in the Manhattan courthouse, Cohen did not name Trump but said that the payments were made “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” according to CNN and other outlets.

Robert Khuzami, the deputy U.S. attorney in New York, said that the two campaign finance violations were for causing and unlawful corporate contribution and making an excessive personal contributions. Those had to do with payments made in the waning weeks “to silence two women he believed would be detrimental to the campaign. The women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, claim to have had affairs with Trump in 2006.

Khuzami said that Cohen then sought reimbursement from the Trump Organization, but misrepresented the nature of the expense.

Cohen’s plea agreement includes a substantial fine, and four to five years in prison. His plea agreement did not include cooperation with prosecutors.

The charges for tax evasion and making a false statement related to his family’s taxi business, while another federal count, for giving a false statement to a financial institution, had to do with making false statements about the extent of his debt on an application for a home equity line of credit.

Arriving in Charleston, W. Va., for a rally on Tuesday, Trump did not answer questions about Cohen’s guilty plea. He did address the conviction of Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, who was found guilty on eight of 18 counts of fraud and other crimes related to his political consulting business.

“It doesn’t involve me, but it’s a very sad thing that happened,” Trump said.

Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, issued a statement in which he said, “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.”

Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, said on Twitter, that his client “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?”

Cohen was steadfastly loyal to Trump and known as his fixer until authorities raided his office, home, and hotel room in April. That ignited speculation that federal prosecutors were scrutinizing payments that Cohen set up in the amount of $130,000 to Daniels, an adult film actress, on behalf of Trump in October, 2016.

McDougal, a former Playboy model, claimed that American Media Inc., the owner of the National Enquirer, bought the rights to her story for $150,000 in order to squelch it before the election.  Davis last month released a secret recording that Cohen made of a conversation with Trump in October, 2016, and they are heard discussing making a payment to AMI.

Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, tweeted that Cohen’s guilty plea “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.”

Avenatti also directed a message to Giuliani. “Buckle Up Buttercup. You and your client completely misplayed this…” he wrote.

A month ago, it looked as if Cohen was prepared to reach an agreement in which he would cooperate with federal prosecutors. In news interviews, Giuliani, attacked Cohen as untrustworthy and a liar. Giuliani has insisted that Cohen acted on his own in making the payment to Daniels.

Cohen’s prosecution is being conducted out of the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York and is separate from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mueller reportedly referred Cohen’s case to federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

As Trump was taking office, Cohen sought to line up clients to exploit his connections to the White House. AT&T and Novartis were among the companies that retained him.

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