When Donald Trump's former personal attorney confessed Tuesday to violating campaign-finance laws in the 2016 election, he implicated the president in the process.
The lawyer, Michael Cohen, said he gave hush money to two women “at the direction” of an “unnamed candidate” during the White House race. Because he was still working for Trump at the time, Cohen was clearly referring to him. According to legal experts, the payments were felonies because they amounted to unreported campaign expenditures.
Cohen made the admission in a New York City courtroom, where he pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts involving tax evasion, lying to a financial institution, making an “unlawful corporate contribution” and issuing an “excessive campaign contribution.” The attorney acknowledged that he broke the law for the “purpose of influencing (the) election.”
The payments, which totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars, went to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both women claim they had sexual relationships with Trump, who denies their stories. According to Cohen, Trump financed the hush money in return for Daniels and McDougal agreeing to sign nondisclosure agreements.
The lawyer's revelations indicate that Trump “appears to be a co-conspirator, and/or aider and abettor of a federal crime,” Jeffrey Toobin wrote in The New Yorker. Some other political analysts, as well as a few members of Congress, reacted to the news by calling for the president's impeachment.
Cohen is cooperating with federal investigators, hoping for a reduced prison sentence that could be as long as 65 years. Bloomberg reported that the judge at Tuesday's hearing assured the defendant he would likely spend just four to six years behind bars.
Later in the day, an attorney representing Cohen (Lanny Davis) told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow that his client would be “more than happy” to speak with Robert Mueller, the Justice Department special counsel investigating the Trump-Russia scandal.
“Michael Cohen knows information that would be of interest to the special counsel, in my opinion, regarding both knowledge about a conspiracy to corrupt American democracy by the Russians, and the failure to report that knowledge to the FBI,” Davis declared.
On NBC's Today show, the attorney explained that his client “said under oath the most damaging, definitive information ... that the president of the United States directed him to commit a crime.” Davis refuted the possibility of Cohen accepting a presidential pardon. “Not only is he not hoping for, he would not accept a pardon,” the lawyer said. “He considers a pardon from somebody who has acted so corruptly as president to be something he would never accept.”
Davis previously warned that Cohen has information about a “conspiracy to corrupt American democracy by the Russians.” The New York Times' Maggie Haberman has reported that White House officials consider the prospect of Cohen “flipping” on Trump the biggest threat to the presidency. As the real-estate mogul's longtime “fixer,” the lawyer could have dirt on Trump that is not limited to what happened during the 2016 campaign.
“What he knows that he witnessed will be of interest to the special counsel,” Davis said on ABC’s Good Morning America. “He will tell the truth to everyone who asks him about Mr Trump.”
Cohen, who once said he was so loyal to Trump that he would “take a bullet” for him, now thinks the president is “unsuitable to hold the office” because of his unwillingness to stand up to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, according to Davis. “He’s turned his life (around) what he did for Donald Trump, much of which he now regrets,” Davis told the Today show hosts.
The New York Times reported that Cohen, before developing his relationship with Trump, was a struggling personal-injury lawyer who did not even have his own office. He met with clients at taxi-cab facilities and a car mechanic's garage before moving into an office at Trump Tower.
The newspaper's investigation painted a sordid picture of Cohen “operat(ing) in the backwaters of the financial and legal worlds.” During those years, the lawyer made multiple personal and professional contacts with Russians and Ukrainians who had moved to the United States. Cohen had a Russian legal partner, and his father-in-law was a native of Ukraine. One of the services he provided for Trump was looking for business opportunities in the former Soviet Union.
Cohen also got involved in New York City real estate. He sold four Manhattan properties for $32 million in cash four years ago, tripling his investment. “This is the type of person you’d see most bankers steer clear of,” Ben Berzin, a retired PNC Bank official, told the Times. He said “you have to ask what's going on” when someone earns huge profits in real-estate deals.
Mueller's probe of Cohen gained traction earlier this year, when agents raided the lawyer's home, office and hotel room. The searches uncovered documents, recordings of phone conversations and other information.