Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer of US President Donald Trump, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to campaign-finance violations and other charges, saying he made payments to influence the 2016 election at the direction of a candidate for federal office.
Appearing in a federal court in New York City, Cohen pleaded guilty to one count of willfully causing an unlawful corporate campaign contribution and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution, Reuters reports.
Cohen, one of Trump’s closest associates for more than a decade, said he arranged to make payments “for (the) principal purpose of influencing (the) election” at the direction of a candidate for federal office. He did not give the candidate’s name.
Porn star Stormy Daniels has said Cohen paid her US$130,000 shortly before the November 2016 election to keep quiet about a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.
In addition, Cohen recorded a conversation with Trump two months before the election in which they discussed buying the rights to a story by former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said she had an affair with Trump.
Under US election law, campaign contributions, defined as things of value given to a campaign in order to influence an election, must be disclosed. A payment intended to silence allegations of an affair just before an election could constitute a campaign contribution, some experts have said.
Cohen, who once said he would “take a bullet” for Trump, agreed to a plea bargain with federal prosecutors earlier Tuesday. He also pleaded guilty to five counts of tax fraud and one count of making false statements to a financial institution.
The plea deal includes a possible sentence of up to five years and three months in prison, Judge William Pauley III said during the hearing. Pauley scheduled sentencing for Dec. 12 and set bail at US$500,000.
The guilty pleas by Cohen came in the same hour that a federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia, convicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of eight charges of tax and bank fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts.
Manafort conviction’s resulted from US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible coordination with Trump’s Republican campaign.
Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia or having sex with Daniels or McDougal, and has called the Mueller investigation a witch-hunt.
Cohen, who worked as Trump’s personal attorney at the Trump Organization, continued to advise the president after the election. But their relationship had frayed in recent months.
The investigation of Cohen included a raid in April by FBI agents, who seized documents and files from his office, home and hotel room.
The April FBI raids provoked an immediate reaction from Trump, who asked a judge to block prosecutors from reviewing the materials they had seized, citing attorney-client privilege. The effort was unsuccessful.
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