Ex-Trump lawyer Cohen pleads guilty in hush-money scheme
NEW YORK (AP) — The unveiling of federal criminal charges against President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer came with drama as attorney Michael Cohen went farther than prosecutors were willing to go in pointing fingers. Not only did Cohen plead guilty to all eight charges, but he directly implicated the president in the payment of hush money to two women who claim they had affairs with him.
How did the court appearance play out and what are the implications? Some questions and answers:
WHAT HAPPENED IN COURT?
Cohen, Trump’s longtime “fixer,” claimed his ex-boss — described only as the “candidate,” was to blame for hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels and a former Playboy model to influence the 2016 election.
He told U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III that he arranged a $150,000 payment from a media company to the model “in coordination with, and at the direction of, a candidate for federal office.” He said it was “for the principle purpose of influencing the election.”
In the second instance, Cohen said he arranged a $130,000 payment to Daniels “in coordination with, and at the direction of, the same candidate.”
The emotional Cohen, who shook his head repeatedly during the 40-minute proceeding and cried outside court, did not name the two women either. But the amounts and the dates all lined up with payments made to Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal in the weeks and months leading up to the presidential election.
Other charges included tax evasion and making false statements to a bank.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR COHEN?
A plea agreement with prosecutors calls for Cohen, 51, to get about four to five years in prison at his sentencing, which is scheduled for Dec. 12. He remains free in the meantime.
WHAT ABOUT COOPERATION?
Before the guilty plea, speculation swirled about whether Cohen could deliver more dirt on his former boss as part of the deal. His legal team, as if to prove his value, took the unusual step of going public with a tape recording his client made of Trump discussing one of the hush-money payments.
But a plea agreement Cohen signed on Tuesday made no mention of cooperation.
By contrast, the agreement struck last year with Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, spelled out that he had to fully cooperate with the expectation he could be rewarded with a more lenient sentence.
Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, said there’s still a chance that Cohen could be cooperating under a separate agreement that’s under seal.
“For a variety of reasons, prosecutors may not want to announce to the world that a defendant has agreed to cooperate,” he said. Still, he added, prosecutors also could “have concluded that any additional information that he could provide beyond his public statements doesn’t rise to the level of substantial assistance.”
WHAT WAS THE REACTION TO COHEN’S GUILTY PLEA?
As cable networks were showing split-screen coverage of the dueling conviction and plea bargain by two former loyalists, Trump boarded Air Force One in the afternoon on the way to a rally in West Virginia. He ignored shouted questions from reporters about both former aides, retreating to his private stateroom on the airliner.
As Cohen left the courthouse, a couple of people outside chanted, “Lock him up!”
“If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?” Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, tweeted.
Daniel Petalas, former prosecutor in the Justice Department’s public integrity section, said, “This brings President Trump closer into the criminal conduct.”
Michael Avenatti says Cohen’s plea should open the door to questioning Trump about “what he knew, when he knew it, and what he did about it.”
Avenatti told The Associated Press that he was certain “cooperation was occurring” between Cohen and prosecutors, saying he had been made “very familiar” with what’s going on.
Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, noted the possibility of Cohen cooperating should be worrying to the president and his allies.
“What it shows is that the people close to the president have criminal exposure and it may mean they don’t need Cohen to cooperate,” she said.
Associated Press writers Stephen R. Groves and Michael R. Sisak in New York, Jonathan Lemire and Catherine Lucey in Washington and Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles contributed to this report.