Trump ex-lawyer Cohen pleads guilty -- and implicates president

Laura BONILLA CAL
Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer for Donald Trump, seen leaving federal court in New York on August 21, 2018

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's longtime lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight counts, including violations of campaign finance rules during the 2016 presidential race -- and implicated his former boss in the process.

The former lawyer and businessman pleaded guilty to five counts of tax fraud, one of bank fraud and two counts of violating campaign finance laws during the hearing before US District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan.

Questioned by the federal judge, Cohen said he had paid sums of $130,000 and $150,000 each to two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump, acting at his boss's request, in a bid to buy their silence "with the purpose of influencing the election."

Cohen did not specify the women's names, but the sums correspond to a payment known to have been made to porn star Stormy Daniels just before the election to silence her claims of a one-night stand with Trump -- and another destined for former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Cohen's explosive assertion -- which suggests Trump may have committed a crime -- was all the more spectacular coming from a man who once declared he was so loyal he would "take a bullet for the president."

Most of the counts against the 51-year-old Cohen carry maximum prison terms of five years, with the exception of making false statements to a financial institution, which carries up to 30 years.

Guilty pleas are common in the United States when it appears prosecutors have sufficient evidence for a conviction if the case goes to trial.

The FBI raided Cohen's home and office on a referral from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into whether Trump sought to obstruct the Russia meddling probe.

The plea deal came comes days after The New York Times reported that Cohen was also under investigation for tax and bank fraud, possibly exceeding $20 million via loans obtained by the taxi medallion business he owns with his family.

Just minutes earlier, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty of eight counts, in the first trial resulting from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

A jury found Manafort guilty of five counts of making false income tax returns, two counts of bank fraud and one of failure to report foreign bank and financial accounts.

Each of the bank fraud counts carries a significant maximum sentence and the 69-year-old Manafort could theoretically live out the remainder of his years in prison -- though a legal expert told AFP it would run to under a decade in reality.