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Two ex-advisors of Trump face jail, one blames him

Michael Cohen, a former lawyer and fixer for Donald Trump, has pleaded guilty to campaign finance violation and bank fraud and implicated his then boss without naming him

world Updated: Aug 22, 2018 22:52 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Donald Trump,Michael Cohen,US
Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits from federal court in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018.hush payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with the president. (Bloomberg)

Michael Cohen, a former lawyer and fixer for Donald Trump, has pleaded guilty to campaign finance violation and bank fraud and implicated his then boss without naming him, for payments made to two women for their silence about their affairs with the president.

Meanwhile Paul Manafort, a former chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign, was found guilty of eight counts of bank and tax fraud that could put him in jail for up to 10 years. The jury was deadlocked on 10 other counts. The trial judge, T S Ellis III, declared a mistrial on those charges.

Cohen’s guilty plea in a New York court on Tuesday, which could get him up to five years in jail, is perhaps the more damaging of the two developments for Trump as it directly implicates the president in a federal crime, which even his allies acknowledged was a “serious issue”.

Cohen, who had once boasted he would take a bullet for his boss, told the trial court judge William H Pauley III under oath that he had made one payment “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office” and the second was made “under direction of the same candidate”.

A court paper filed by prosecutors said Cohen made the payments “in order to influence the 2016 presidential election” and that he had “coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments”. A prosecutor later said Cohen had acted “for the principal purpose of influencing the election”.

Cohen did not name Trump or the two women in the court. The court documents and press statement from the office of the US attorney of South District of New York, which is prosecuting the case also did not identify them.

Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis said: “Today he (Cohen) stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election. If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”.

As sitting president, Trump cannot be indicted, or criminally charged, according to current guidelines from the department of justice. But he could be charged the moment he leaves office, either after the first term or the second should be he re-elected. Chances of these charges leading to impeachment proceedings would depend on whether or not they could constitute high crime and misdemeanour, according to experts.

In the summer of 2016, Cohen had arranged for a news publication to pay former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 for her story about an affair with Trump, which the president has denied. The article never ran. The same publication later alerted Cohen about an adult film star Stormy Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, who had offered her story about her relationship with Trump, which also the president has denied. Cohen had paid her $130,000 for her silence. These payments violated campaign finance laws.

Cohen has also pleaded guilty to bank fraud and tax evasion of $4 million in connection with a taxi-permit business.

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliano denied Cohen’s plea deal and the charges implicated the president. ‘“There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President,” he said in a statement.

First Published: Aug 22, 2018 22:51 IST