Michael Cohen Has Pleaded Guilty To Charges That Put Trump In Severe Jeopardy
Cohen has pleaded guilty to bank fraud, tax fraud, and campaign finance violations. What does this mean for President Trump, who Cohen claims directed some of his conduct?B
Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer/”fixer” and the RNC’s former deputy finance chairman, has entered into a guilty plea as part of the criminal investigation being conducted by federal investigators in the Southern District of New York (SDNY). Cohen was being probed for over $20 million in bank fraud and violating election law by trying to suppress damaging information about then-candidate Donald Trump.
The guilty plea admits to 8 counts that include bank fraud, tax fraud, and campaign finance violations. Long story short, Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to criminal conduct that took place on behalf of Donald Trump. Although this plea agreement does not include a cooperation agreement, that does not mean one might not come in the future. As part of the plea, Cohen could face 3-6 years in prison.
Looks like 2 of 8 counts against Michael Cohen specifically have to do with illegal contributions related to the Trump presidential campaign. https://t.co/kzswmJ5d0t
— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) August 21, 2018
NEWS: Cohen just described, in court, how he violated campaign finance laws by arranging payment for Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. He said he violated federal law “in coordination with and at the direction of a federal candidate for office” Meaning Trump.
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) August 21, 2018
Perhaps the most significant charge Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to: 1 count of excessive campaign contribution ***at the request of a candidate or a campaign*** https://t.co/iikMXakolA
— Rebecca Ballhaus (@rebeccaballhaus) August 21, 2018
If the @HouseGOP doesn’t, lord knows the 2019 Dem-controlled House will.
It doesn’t have to. These crimes are impeachable on their own. https://t.co/jsebU11Tfr
— Ahmed Baba (@AhmedBaba_) August 22, 2018
The plea agmt was one thing. But the criminal information, just filed in Court, details Cohen & Trump’s illegal schemes. This is very,very bad for the President. The Q that should be asked now is whether resignation is a better alternative than impeachmenthttps://t.co/Rpn4hGLMjM
— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) August 21, 2018
This is the fourth Trump associate to plead guilty to felony charges during the Trump presidency. Cohen joins former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort is currently standing trial facing numerous charges, and has been convicted of 8 so far.
This has wide-ranging consequences on its own merit, but if Michael Cohen chooses to cooperate with the SDNY or with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, there is much more the President should be worried about.
Here are the details that Michael Cohen can shed light on when it comes to President Trump’s potential criminal wrongdoing:
Hush Money Payments
As we know, the National Enquirer paid former Playboy Model Karen McDougal $150,000 to purchase and suppress the story about her 2006 affair with Donald Trump. The payment was made in August 2016. David Pecker, the chairman of the National Enquirer’s parent company, is a friend of Donald Trump’s. The Wall Street Journal broke the story on this on November 4, 2016. When then-Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks was reached out to for comment, she said they had no knowledge of this payment and denied the affair. That was clearly a lie.
Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen recorded a tape in Septemeber 2016 where Donald Trump discussed purchasing the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s affair story from the National Enquirer. It was released by CNN.
There have always been questions as to whether or not Cohen was involved in the National Enquirer deal. McDougal has accused Cohen of such, and told CNN that she later found out her legal representation for the negotiations with the Enquirer, Keith Davidson, was in contact with Cohen. Today’s plea agreement confirms he was involved.
A major unanswered question was whether or not Cohen reimbursed the Enquirer for their payment to McDougal. Although his audio recording doesn’t confirm that, it does provide evidence that makes that possibility more likely. Given the report that the National Enquirer has been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors, it’s definitely of interest. Michael Cohen had a fixer fund he amassed, so if Trump discussed payments to McDougal, whether or not any of that money made its way to the Enquirer is a question that must be answered.
Cohen reportedly obtained the $774,000 through a home-equity line of credit. Cohen also received over a million dollars from various companies for access to Donald Trump, including some from Russian Oligarch Viktor Vekselberg’s company Columbus NOVA. Vekselberg is under U.S. sanctions and was questioned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller about this payment.
As we know, Cohen paid $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) in October 2016 to keep her quiet about her affair with Donald Trump. Rudy Giuliani told Fox News’ Hannity that this payment was reimbursed and that President Trump knew about it. Giuliani also claimed that the payment was related to the campaign. Giuliani and Trump have both asserted that Cohen was reimbursed through his $35k monthly retainer. Giuliani went as far as to say Cohen was reimbursed up to $470,000 (later revising it down to $420,000).
June 2016 Trump Tower Meeting
Michael Cohen has reportedly claimed that then-candidate Trump approved the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting ahead of time. This would have wide-ranging consequences if Cohen were to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as well.
President Trump tweeted out an admission that contradicts years worth of statements his team has made about the nature of the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2018
Rudy Giuliani later further bolstered this admission.
The June 2016 Trump Tower meeting was held between Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, then-Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, Natalia Veselnitskaya (a Russian lawyer and self-described informant), and Russian operatives. Donald Trump Jr.’s own emails and congressional testimony revealed that he was very eager about the prospect of receiving dirt on Hillary Clinton, but his initial story about the meeting was very different.
The Trump administration’s initial response to this, which was dictated on Air Force One by Trump himself with the help of former Communications Director Hope Hicks, was false. Trump Jr.’s first statement after the initial report asserted the meeting was only about adoption. As we now know, Trump Jr. later acknowledged that it clearly wasn’t just about adoption. He clearly states that he anticipated he was going to receive damaging information on his father’s political opponent Hillary Clinton. Even if it was strictly about “adoption,” it would’ve been problematic, given the fact Magnitsky Act was expanded in 2016 and now sanctions 44 people worldwide. If this story wasn’t about Jr. seeking dirt, it would’ve been about Trump campaign officials meeting with a Russian lawyer who is lobbying against US-imposed sanctions on Russia.
This would make sense that Candidate Trump was aware, given the fact on June 7th, Candidate Trump said he was going to do a speech about Hillary Clinton’s wrongdoings (the speech never happened). Also, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani confirmed that there was a preparation meeting that occurred between Trump’s campaign team on June 7th, the same day as the speech announcement. One person allegedly in attendance, former Deputy Campaign Chairman Rick Gates, is now a cooperating witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Trump Tower Moscow
Another subject Michael Cohen could provide insight on if he cooperates with Special Counsel Robert Mueller are the Trump Tower Moscow deals.
Over the last several decades, President Trump has pursued multiple Trump Tower deals in Moscow. One of those pursuits has drawn the attention of Mueller.
According to questions drafted by Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow, Mueller is seeking to ask the following question:
“What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater, and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?”
While Donald Trump was running for president, the Trump Organization sought to develop a huge Trump Tower in Moscow. Trump signed a letter of intent in October 2015, a few months into his presidential campaign, to pursue this venture. Trump’s longtime mob-connected associate, and at times FBI informant, Felix Sater was working closely with Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen (at the time he played the role of Trump Organization Executive Vice President) towards this deal.
Cohen has publicly stated that the deal fell through in January 2016. Documents obtained by Buzzfeed News indicate that the deal was still actively being pursued well into June of the 2016 campaign. It didn’t stop there. Plans were reportedly being discussed for then-candidate Donald Trump to meet face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir after the Republican Convention:
This is, assuming it’s true, a holy shit story: While Trump was preparing for the Republican convention in spring 2016, Michael Cohen was still negotiating Trump Tower Moscow and was working on a Trump-Putin meeting to take place after the convention to finalize the deal. pic.twitter.com/MheCbmdUor
— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) May 17, 2018
Let’s put the timing of this in perspective. This deal was still being pursued while Donald Trump’s family and campaign chairman sought dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russian operatives who were seeking sanctions relief in that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. This deal was still being pursued right as Wikileaks prepared to release DNC emails that were DNC emails obtained through a Russian intelligence operation (leaks that Trump and his family relentlessly helped disseminate).
Cohen’s role in the Trump Organization would place him in a position that could provide some serious insight into the allegations of money laundering that Donald Trump has faced due to his business with Russian oligarchs.
If you want to dive deeper into those business ties, read our five-chapter Trump-Russia saga.