Cohen says hush money paid to influence election

Michael Cohen, left, former personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, leaves his apartment building past his doorman, in New York on Tuesday. - Richard Drew | AP Photo

NEW YORK (AP) — Michael Cohen, the personal lawyer and “fixer” who once said he would “take a bullet” for Donald Trump, struck a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty Tuesday to charges including campaign finance fraud, bank fraud and tax evasion, according to two people familiar with the plea bargain.

It was not clear if the agreement requires Cohen’s cooperation with the Russia probe or other investigations.

The campaign finance charges involve payments to two women, the two people said. They spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

Cohen, 51, was due to appear late in the afternoon in federal court in New York, where security officers were setting up barricades.

Cohen was seen earlier leaving his apartment, traveling to the Manhattan offices of one of his lawyers, former federal prosecutor Guy Petrillo, and going into a building where the FBI has its New York offices.

Cohen’s lawyers and the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment.

The development came a day after prosecutors signaled that Cohen could be charged before the end of the month in a case that has been a distraction for the White House with the midterm elections approaching.

Those close to the president expressed worry on Tuesday about the implication the campaign finance charges against Cohen could have for the White House.

The president, meanwhile, remained out of sight in the hours before he was to head to West Virginia for a campaign rally. The White House and the Trump re-election campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cohen’s fate has worried the president’s inner circle since the FBI raided his home, office and hotel room in April and seized more than 4 million items.

The president has fumed publicly about what he felt was government overreach, while privately worrying about what material Cohen may have after working for the Trump Organization for a decade.

Trump branded the raid “a witch hunt,” an assault on attorney-client privilege and a politically motivated attack by enemies in the FBI.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The team referred the case involving Cohen’s financial dealings to federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

The search of Cohen’s files sought bank records, communications with the Trump campaign and information on hush money payments made in 2016 to two women: former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who received $150,000, and porn star Stormy Daniels, who got $130,000.

Daniels’ hard-charging lawyer, Michael Avenatti, later upped the drama by disclosing bank reports showing that Cohen had been hustling behind the scenes to cash in on his close relationship with the president.

The records revealed that several companies, including AT&T, Novartis and a South Korean defense contractor, had collectively paid Cohen at least $1.8 million in consulting fees for his insights into the new administration.

Among Cohen’s other clients was a U.S.-based investment firm with close ties to a Russian oligarch.

Avenatti tweeted that Cohen’s plea agreement should open the door to questioning Trump under oath in Daniels’ defamation lawsuit against him about “what he knew, when he knew it, and what he did about it.”

The New York Times reported earlier this week, based on anonymous sources, that prosecutors have been focusing on more than $20 million in loans obtained by taxi businesses that Cohen and his family own.

Before the election, Cohen had been a trusted member of the Trump organization, working out of an office in Trump Tower next to one used by his boss.

He raised millions for Trump’s campaign and, after being interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee last year, told Vanity Fair that Trump had no part in the suspected Russian conspiracy to tamper with the election.

The president’s initial support for Cohen after the raid has since degenerated into a public feud, prompting speculation that, to save himself, Cohen might be willing to tell prosecutors some of the secrets he helped Trump keep.

Trump’s orbit, namely lawyer Rudy Giuliani, has steadily ratcheted up their attacks on Cohen, suggesting he was untrustworthy and lying about what he knew about the former celebrity real estate developer’s business dealings.

When Cohen’s team produced a recording he had made of Trump discussing a payment to silence a woman about an alleged affair, Giuliani went on a media tour to impugn his credibility and question his loyalty.

Trump himself has tried to distance himself from Cohen.

“What kind of lawyer would tape a client? So sad!” Trump tweeted.

Michael Cohen, left, former personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, leaves his apartment building past his doorman, in New York on Tuesday.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_121097944-88bbdcc455c4460cad41ac534b1073e6.jpgMichael Cohen, left, former personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, leaves his apartment building past his doorman, in New York on Tuesday. Richard Drew | AP Photo