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Trump's ex-lawyer admits campaign finance violations

August 21, 2018

Donald Trump had directed Cohen to pay a porn star and Playboy model with campaign money, Cohen's lawyer said. With talk of impeachment in the air, lawmakers said Cohen's plea adds to the "president's legal jeopardy."

Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen leaves New York court house
Image: picture alliance/Zuma Wire/Go Nakamura

US President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges on Tuesday, including two campaign finance violations, after reaching a deal with federal prosecutors.

That same day, his ex-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was found guilty of tax evasion and fraud. Both Cohen and Manafort were part of Trump's inner circle during the 2016 presidential campaign.

How did we get here:

  • Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading a probe into Russian collusion with Trump's presidential campaign, referred Cohen's case to prosecutors in New York. His case is not formally part of the Russia probe.
  • As part of a plea deal, Cohen admitted to using campaign funds to pay porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal in exchange for their keeping silent about their relations Trump.
  • Cohen said "a candidate for federal office" personally directed him to pay the porn star and Playboy model "for the principal purpose of influencing the election."
  • Cohen's lawyer, Danny Davis, named Trump as the culprit.
Court room sketch of Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen's lawyer said his client felt "liberated to tell the truth"Image: Reuters/J. Rosenberg

'Motivated by family'

DW's Washington Bureau Chief Alexandra von Nahmen said Cohen's decision to reach a plea deal was likely "motivated by trying to help his family and reach a deal to reduce his jail time."

What does this mean for Trump?

Adam Schiff, a Democratic lawmaker and House intelligence committee member, said the "factual basis of the plea" could add to the "president's legal jeopardy."

Asked whether Trump could be indicted, Tyson Barker, a political analyst at the Berlin-based Aspen Institute, told DW that there is "no precedent for an indictment of a president."

 Is impeachment likely?

Although Trump could be impeached for directing his lawyer to commit a crime, such as violating campaign finance laws, it is unlikely to happen in the coming months.

The House of Representatives has the power to launch impeachment proceedings on the basis of criminal allegations, but it is dominated by Republicans. Trump continues to enjoy wide support from Republican lawmakers in Congress, who have leveraged his message for their campaigns.

However, that could change in November, when the US is set for midterm elections.

Instead of a legal process, the main avenue for the latest developments to blow back on Trump is through political channels, Barker of the Aspen Institute said.  

This includes impeachment proceedings in Congress if the Republicans were to lose the House to Democrats in November's midterm elections, Barker said. 

'No wrongdoing'

Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who is heading the president's defense in the Russia probe, later said there is "no allegation of any wrongdoing" against the president in the charges brought against Cohen.

Read more: Donald Trump fears 'perjury trap' in Russia probe

What happens next?

Cohen is set to be sentenced on December 12, according to initial reports, with bail set at $500,000 (€430,000). 

The broadcaster CNN reported that Cohen's plea deal will likely involve 36 to 60 months of jail time for Trump's once loyal "fixer." 

The Cohen case is likely to draw the interest of Mueller's Russia probe. 

Davis, Cohen's lawyer, told CNN that his client had "information that would be of interest to Mueller in his probe of conspiracy to corrupt American democracy." 

"There is no doubt that Donald Trump committed a crime and, more than that, a cover-up of the crime. Because he did not want to write the check to Stormy Daniels," Davis said. 

ls/kms (AP, Reuters)

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