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Michael Cohen says he paid off woman who claimed affair at Trump’s direction

By William K. Rashbaum, Maggie Haberman and Ben Protess

NEW YORK – Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former fixer, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to campaign finance and other charges. He made the extraordinary admission that he paid a pornographic actress “at the direction of the candidate,” referring to Trump, to secure her silence about an affair she said she had with Trump.

Cohen told a judge in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that the payment was “for the principal purpose of influencing the election” for president in 2016.

Cohen also pleaded guilty to multiple counts of tax evasion and bank fraud, bringing to a close a monthslong investigation by Manhattan federal prosecutors who examined his personal business dealings and his role in helping to arrange financial deals with women connected to Trump.

The plea agreement does not call for Cohen to cooperate with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, but it does not preclude him from providing information to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is examining the Trump campaign’s possible involvement in Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign.

If Cohen were to substantially assist the special counsel’s investigation, Mueller could recommend a reduction in his sentence.

The guilty plea could represent a pivotal moment in the investigation into the president: a once-loyal aide acknowledging that he made payments to at least one woman who said she had an affair with Trump, in violation of federal campaign finance law.

Cohen had been the president’s longtime fixer, handling his most sensitive business and personal matters. He once said he would take a bullet for Trump.

The investigation of Cohen had focused in part on his role helping to arrange financial deals to secure the silence of women who said they had affairs with Trump, including Stephanie Clifford, an adult film actress better known as Stormy Daniels.

The charges against Cohen were not a surprise, but he had signaled recently he might be willing to cooperate with investigators who for months have been conducting an extensive investigation of his personal business dealings.

Cohen’s plea culminates a long-running inquiry that became publicly known in April when FBI agents armed with search warrants raided his office, apartment and hotel room, hauling away reams of documents, including pieces of paper salvaged from a shredder, and millions of electronic files contained on a series of cellphones, iPads and computers.

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