In a stunning admission that implicates US President Donald Trump, his former lawyer Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to buying the silence of two women about their alleged affairs with Trump.
The extraordinary admission yesterday came the same day as Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was convicted of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failure to disclose a foreign bank account. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining 10 counts, and the judge declared a mistrial on those charges.
Cohen, 51, pleaded guilty in the Southern District of New York to charges of tax evasion, making false statements to a federally-insured bank, and campaign finance violations. The most-stunning admission he made in court before US District Judge William Pauley was that in 2016, Cohen had made payments of USD 280,000 to silence two women, who otherwise planned to speak publicly about their alleged affairs with a presidential candidate, thereby "intending to influence the 2016 presidential election".
The presidential candidate here is Trump and the payments were to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and a former Playboy playmate, a clear implication of the president. Cohen's sentencing is scheduled for December 12.
Trump has made no statement regarding Cohen's admission. He was in West Virginia for a rally.
Cohen told the judge that the payments to the women were made "in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office” and "for the principal purpose of influencing the election" for president in 2016.
Trump has not been named by federal prosecutors in the charges against Cohen but has been identified as "Individual 1".
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said this investigation uncovered crimes of fraud, deception and evasion, conducted through a string of financial transactions that were "carefully constructed and concealed to protect a variety of interests. But as we all know, the truth can only remain hidden for so long before the FBI brings it to light".
Prosecutors said Cohen held the title of "executive vice-president" and "special counsel" to the owner of the company, "Individual-1", who apparently is Trump. In January 2017, Cohen left the company and began holding himself out as the "personal attorney" to "Individual-1, who by that time had become the president of the United States".
Providing details of the campaign finance violations, prosecutors said on June 16, 2015, "Individual-1" -- or Trump -- began his presidential campaign. While Cohen continued to work at the company and did not have a formal title with the campaign, he had a campaign email address and, at various times, advised the campaign, including on matters of interest to the press, and made televised and media appearances on behalf of the campaign.
Prosecutors said that in June 2016, a model and actress, named only as "Woman-1" in the complaint began attempting to sell her story of her alleged extramarital affair with "Individual-1" that had taken place in 2006 and 2007, knowing the story would be of considerable value because of the election.
In October 2016, an agent for an adult film actress informed an editor of a magazine that the woman was willing to make public statements and confirm on the record her alleged past affair with Trump.
The magazine's editor contacted Cohen who, over the course of the next few days, negotiated a USD 130,000 agreement with her attorney to himself "purchase" the woman's silence, and received a signed confidential settlement agreement and a separate side letter agreement from her attorney.
"Cohen caused and made the payments described herein in order to influence the 2016 presidential election. In so doing, he coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments," prosecutors said.
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