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Michael Cohen pleads guilty to eight counts
Michael Cohen, who worked for years as President Trump's personal attorney, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges of bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance law violations, delivering a potentially significant legal blow to the president.
Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts total, including five counts of tax evasion and one count of making a false statement to a financial institution.
Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami said at a press conference Cohen failed to disclose $4.1 million in reported income, which allowed him to obtain various loans to which he would otherwise have not have been able to access.
He also pleaded guilty to one count of making an excessive campaign contribution on Oct. 27, 2016, which is the same date Cohen finalized a payment to adult-film star Stormy Daniels as part of a nondisclosure agreement over an affair Daniels alleges she had with Trump. Cohen said he did so at the direction of "a candidate for federal office." He did not mention Trump by name.
The judge set a sentencing hearing of Dec. 12 for Cohen, who was released on $500,000 bond.
The $130,000 payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was completed just weeks before the 2016 election. She is now suing Cohen and the president for defamation and to void the nondisclosure agreement.
In addition to the $130,000 payment to Clifford, Cohen also admitted to making an illegal contribution of $150,000. That figure matches up with the amount former Playboy model Karen McDougal was paid by publishers of the National Enquirer for exclusive rights to her story about her alleged affair with Trump.
"What he did was he worked to pay money to silence two women who had information that he believed would be detrimental to the 2016 campaign, to the candidate and the campaign," Khuzami said.
He went on to detail sham invoices Cohen filed to shield the payments' true purposes.
Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, said Cohen pled guilty so that he could move on with his live. He also suggested that if Cohen were guilty over the payments to the two women, so was the president.
"Michael Cohen took this step today so that his family can move on to the next chapter," Davis said. "This is Michael fulfilling his promise made on July 2nd 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," Davis said. "If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn't they be a crime for Donald Trump?"
Trump initially denied knowing anything about the payment to Daniels, but later acknowledged that he reimbursed Cohen for the expense, which he insisted had nothing to do with the campaign.
"These are very serious charges and reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over an extended period of time. They are significant in their own rights. They are particularly significant when done by a lawyer ... Mr. Cohen ... decided he was above the law, and for that he is going to pay a very, very serious price," Khuzami said.
Cohen's deal does not include an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, where he was charged. However, it does not explicitly rule out the possibility of cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller in the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, The New York Times reported.
The prospect of cooperation with the Mueller probe is particularly alarming for the White House given Cohen's inside knowledge of Trump's business dealings. Numerous tapes were taken during an April raid of Cohen's residence, hotel room and office. Cohen himself has released a tape of a conversation he had with the president discussing one hush money payment.
Cohen's plea is a remarkable reversal for a man who was once one of Trump's closest confidants, and who said in September he would "take a bullet" for the president.
He spent years working for the Trump Organization, and until recently served as the deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.
As Cohen entered his guilty plea, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty on eight counts in a trial in Virginia. The judge in the case declared a mistrial on another 10 counts.
Both stories broke as Trump took off on Air Force One for a campaign rally in West Virginia.
Trump did not answer questions about the Cohen guilty plea from reporters on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland.
Trump is scheduled to hold a campaign-style rally in West Virginia at 7 p.m.
Tal Axelrod and Jordan Fabian contributed.