Michael Cohen, Former Trump Attorney, Reaches Plea Deal: ReportsCohen used to be "the guy who would take a bullet for the president."
The Southern District of New York has not yet announced charges. The plea is related to payments Cohen made to women on behalf of Trump, The New York Times reported.
Prosecutors had zeroed in on potential bank and tax fraud violations related to the Cohen family’s taxi medallion business, The Times reported over the weekend citing people familiar with the matter. The investigators were said to be evaluating $20 million in loans the attorney obtained from two New York area banks to determine whether he misrepresented the value of his assets. They also looked into whether Cohen failed to report income from the taxi business to the IRS.
A lawyer for Cohen said in April that federal prosecutors in New York were investigating his client on a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Cohen, 51, had reportedly been expecting an indictment for a while. Combined with his deteriorating relationship with the president, the attorney’s legal quagmire could push him to cooperate with prosecutors any way he can.
In an April 9 raid on Cohen’s New York home, office and hotel room, the FBI took recordings and material from his cellphones, tablet and laptop and from a safe deposit box, according to the Times. Prosecutors had already obtained many of Cohen’s emails, the paper noted.
Days after the FBI seized Cohen’s belongings ― a rare thing for lawyers to endure ― prosecutors said they were investigating his personal business dealings. The Washington Post reported that authorities were looking for evidence of Cohen’s potential involvement in bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations. Some of the information seized was reportedly related to the $130,000 in hush money that Cohen paid to adult film actress Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford), who says she had an affair with Trump.
By early August, The Wall Street Journal was reporting that it was Cohen’s taxi medallion business that had come under scrutiny.
Cohen used to be known as Trump’s loyal “fixer,” the man who tamped down the scandals that brewed during the former reality TV star’s presidential run. “I’m the guy who protects the president and the family,” he told Vanity Fair last year. “I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president.”
The president reacted to the FBI’s spring raids with fury on behalf of Cohen, tweeting “Attorney-client privilege is dead!” and “TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!”
Their relationship was brought to rocky ground, though, when the media reported that prosecutors had obtained a recording made by Cohen in which he and Trump appear to discuss how to silence another woman, Karen McDougal, who also says she had an affair with Trump. Cohen was known to tape conversations and store them digitally, but it had not been clear before that those tapes included talks with Trump.
CNN published the McDougal recording in July. The Washington Post reported that prosecutors may have upwards of 100 other such files in hand.
Media reports indicated that Cohen might be willing to turn on his former boss, divulging information that could be damaging to the president and his administration as Cohen’s main priority became protecting his own family.
Trump hit back. His new personal lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, made the cable news circuit to attack Cohen’s reputation, calling him a “pathological manipulator” and “a liar.” Meanwhile, Trump continued to brush aside the notion that he might have done anything wrong.
Cohen has remained at the center of the uproar over Daniels, who said she had an affair with Trump in 2006. The attorney admitted to paying her off after Daniels revealed early this year that she had received $130,000 in return for her silence. Cohen claimed that neither the Trump campaign nor the Trump Organization reimbursed him for that money, although he didn’t mention whether Trump had personally done so.
Meanwhile, Trump’s account of the payment has changed over time. The president told reporters aboard Air Force One in early April ― just days before the FBI raid ― that he had no prior knowledge of the payment to Daniels. But Giuliani appeared to dispute Trump’s claim a month later when he asserted that Trump had personally reimbursed Cohen through monthly installments of $35,000. Giuliani said the payment plan, which totaled about $460,000, began soon after the election.
Complicating matters, Cohen was also receiving payments around the same time from Columbus Nova, a U.S. investment firm affiliated with a Russian oligarch’s company. Columbus Nova confirmed its relationship with Cohen but said the oligarch, billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, had nothing to do with retaining him. CNN reported that Mueller has questioned Vekselberg about those payments, as Vekselberg is a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Columbus Nova allegedly paid Cohen around $500,000, according to Michael Avenatti, Daniels’ lawyer, and various news outlets. Avenatti claimed the payments “may have reimbursed” Cohen for the $130,000 he gave to Daniels.
The full picture of Russia’s meddling in U.S. elections remains to be seen.
Cohen has several other connections to that nation, which have also inspired questions. The attorney represented Trump in a Moscow real estate project during the 2016 campaign, at one point emailing Putin’s spokesman for assistance. He is also mentioned in the infamous Steele dossier, the report by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele alleging a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The dossier alleges that Cohen traveled to Prague a few months before the 2016 election to meet with Russian officials, a trip the lawyer has vehemently denied taking.
Whatever his past may entail, Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis insists his client is committed to doing the right thing.
Cohen “has turned a corner in his life,” Davis said in July, adding, “He’s now dedicated to telling the truth.”
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.