Trump directed me to break law, Michael Cohen tells court on day of disaster for president

Without naming president, ex-attorney admits he acted 'at the direction of candidate'  

Clark Mindock
New York
Tuesday 21 August 2018 23:53
Press conference following Michael Cohen's charge with campaign finance violations, fraud and tax evasion

In a stunning day of developments, Donald Trump's former lawyer has claimed he violated campaign laws at the direction of "the candidate", just as the president's former campaign manager was separately convicted of bank and tax fraud.

The president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to violating campaign laws at a Manhattan court and said he was acting for the "purpose of influencing the (presidential) election".

He told the judge that he was aware of what he was doing before pleading guilty to the charges, admitting that he worked "at the direction of candidate" when he attempted to buy the silence of Karen McDougal, a former Playboy playmate who has claimed she had an affair with Mr Trump in 2016.

Mr Cohen also admitted that he worked "with and at the direction of the same candidate" to deliver a $130,000 (£100,000) payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to silence her claims about an affair.

Although did not mention Mr Trump's name, he was employed by the billionaire businessman, then a presidential candidate, at the time the payments were made.

Mr Cohen's admission came minutes after the jury in the trial of Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign manager, returned a guilty verdict in eight counts of bank and tax fraud.

The jury took four days to find Mr Manafort guilty on on five counts of tax fraud, one count of failing to disclose his foreign bank accounts, and two counts of bank fraud.

Mr Cohen is known for his previously close relationship with Mr Trump, and has repeatedly been described as his "fixer" for difficult matters. That proximity means Mr Cohen could potentially create substantial legal headaches for Mr Trump, whose 2016 presidential campaign is being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller for collusion with Russia.

The case against Mr Cohen was referred to New York's Southern District by Mr Mueller. There was no mention of a cooperation agreement between Mr Cohen and federal prosecutors. The lawyer was freed after his court appearance on a $500,000 (£387,000) bond. He will return in December for his sentencing.

In addition to the payments to Mr Trump's alleged mistresses, prosecutors have been investigating Mr Cohen for over $20m (£15m) worth of bank and tax fraud.

Mr Cohen also pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion and one count of providing a false statement to a bank.

Mr Trump and Mr Cohen have a relationship that stretches back to the mid-2000s, when the lawyer took the Mr Trump's side in a legal dispute with the condo board at Trump World Tower in Manhattan. Mr Cohen, who owned condominiums in multiple Trump branded buildings in New York City, eventually went to work for the Trump Organization, where he held positions including special counsel to Mr Trump and executive vice president of the organisation.

That work for Mr Trump extended into the 2016 election campaign, when Mr Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 in reported hush money to try and keep her silent about an alleged affair between the actress and Mr Trump in 2006, just after the future president had had a child with Melania Trump. Mr Trump has denied the affair ever occurred, and has previously denied having any knowledge of the payment at the time it was made just before the general election.

But the apparent close relationship between the two appears to have soured in recent months, especially after the FBI raided Mr Cohen's offices, hotel, and home. Since then, the man who has said he would take a bullet for Mr Trump has signalled publicly that his allegiances may not always lie with Mr Trump, saying a month ago on ABC News that he would put his "family and country first" if he was offered a lenient sentence from prosecutors in exchange for providing information on Mr Trump. That statement followed after Mr Cohen's lawyer, Lanny J Davis, released a secret audio recoding of a conversation with Mr Trump that appeared to show him admitting to knowledge of the hush-money that was provided to Daniels.

Reacting to the news, Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti tweeted to White House lawyer Rudy Giuliani, taunting the attorney for the way has handled the case.

He said that Mr Cohen's case will make it easier his client to compel the president to submit to a deposition under oath as a part of the civil case they have brought against him.

"Buckle up Buttercup. You and your client completely misplayed this," Mr Avenatti tweeted after news broke that Mr Cohen was set to appear in court.

Mr Trump has repeatedly decried the special counsel investigation as a "witch hunt", and has claimed that Mr Mueller and his team are conducting a partisan smear effort to try and bring down his campaign.

That investigation has already led to several indictments of individuals associated with the president's 2016 campaign, including guilty pleas from five individuals beyond Mr Cohen.

Arriving in West Virginia for a rally on Tuesday night, the president said he "felt badly" for Manafort, but added that the case had "nothing to do with me". He did not address Mr Cohen's admission of guilt, but made a rambling speech to supporters, mentioning turkeys, an imaginary Chinese driver, and exploding windmills.

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