President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney implicated him in criminal activity while pleading guilty to two felony violations of federal campaign finance law today, along with several other counts.
Cohen told a court that he paid an adult film star “at the direction of the candidate,” referring to Trump, to ensure her silence about their alleged affair, “for the principle purpose of influencing” the 2016 presidential election.
Trump’s one-time fixer admitted to committing a total of eight federal crimes in federal court in New York City, including tax evasion, and making a false statement to a bank to obtain a loan.
Cohen arranged for hush money payments to prevent Trump’s former alleged lovers, Stormy Daniels and Karen MacDougal, from telling their stories publicly. He ultimately pled guilty to making an unlawful corporate contribution and an excessive personal contribution to the campaign.
In court, Cohen said he did these acts at the behest of a candidate. While the president is unnamed in the indictment, he is clearly the person referenced.
“An unindicted co-conspirator is unindicted,” Glenn Kopp, a former assistant US Attorney at the Southern District of New York (SDNY), told Quartz. “One of the issues here is that [prosecutors] seem to be, at least, working under the assumption that the indictment of a sitting president is not a necessarily legal…it may be that down the line, the sitting president has legal jeopardy, and is at this point protected by his office.”
Asked on MSNBC if Cohen incriminated the president with his plea, Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ outspoken attorney, said: “I think he has, based on this plea agreement.”
One of Cohen’s attorneys, Lanny Davis, tweeted a question hours after the plea was entered:”If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”
The prosecution was brought by attorneys from the SDNY after a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller. In April, Cohen’s office was raided by FBI investigators seeking to preserve evidence of Cohen’s work. Today, the SDNY deputy US Attorney, Robert Khuzami, said his message for the country is that “the rule of law applies.”
Cohen’s plea agreement does not include any provisions for cooperating with other cases. While the SDNY investigation has come to a conclusion, Kopp says that “they may allow for him to attempt to cooperate with the Mueller investigation.”
Cohen was a long-time legal fixer for Trump and his real estate business, and a key campaign adviser during the president’s 2016 campaign. Much to his chagrin, Cohen did not get a job in the White House, and reportedly began looking for other ways of monetizing his relationship with Trump. Investigators looking for Russian meddling in the US election uncovered evidence of Cohen accepting millions of dollars in payments from private corporations seeking access to the White House. He was also the deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee until resigning in June.
Cohen has given various explanations for the $130,000 that he paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had an affair with Trump. In a financial disclosure form, Trump said he reimbursed Cohen for those costs, though the presidential legal team’s explanation of those payments has shifted wildly.
In July, Cohen released a recording of himself and Trump discussing how to pay off former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Cohen made that recording, and others, without Trump’s knowledge, and is considered to have intimate knowledge of Trump’s complex and potentially illegal financial dealings.