- President Donald Trump’s name wasn’t said a single time during a roughly 45-minute court proceeding during which his former longtime lawyer entered eight guilty pleas to federal charges.
- But Trump took center stage at the hearing.
- Here’s what went down inside the courtroom.
NEW YORK – President Donald Trump’s name wasn’t said a single time during a roughly 45-minute court proceeding where his former longtime lawyer entered eight guilty pleas to federal charges that could have landed him in prison for the rest of his life.
It didn’t matter.
As Michael Cohen explained to US District Judge William H. Pauley why he was pleading guilty to all of the charges – including charges that he made illegal campaign and corporate contributions to an unnamed candidate in 2016 – the president’s name was impossible to avoid.
Cohen, the man who worked alongside the president for more than a decade, admitted in federal court, as part of a plea deal he struck with the government, that Trump directed him to knowingly break the law to boost his own candidacy.
As Cohen explained that he committed the campaign-finance violations “at the direction of the candidate” and with the “purpose of influencing the election,” there were audible gasps in the lower Manhattan courtroom packed with reporters.
Aside from explaining why he was pleading guilty to the eight charges he faced, which also included five counts of tax evasion and one count of making false statements to a bank, Cohen said almost nothing in the hearing. Cohen admitted he had one stiff drink on Monday night ahead of the proceeding – a Glenlivet, 12-year-old single malt scotch on the rocks.
He said such a drink was not customary for him. Then again, little would be customary for him about the 24 hours that followed.
Cohen implicates Trump
Cohen first said that in the summer of 2016, at “a candidate’s” direction, he moved to keep an individual from publicly disclosing damaging information that would hurt that candidate’s campaign. That person was former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who says she had an affair with Trump years ago.
Her story was purchased by American Media Inc., whose head, David Pecker, is a longtime friend of Trump. The National Enquirer, owned by AMI, purchased the rights to McDougal’s story for $150,000 in August 2016 but never published it. That practice is known as “catch and kill.”
In court, Cohen said “we accomplished” the goal regarding preventing that information from coming out.
“I participated in this conduct with the principal purpose of influencing” the election, he added.
- Rick Loomis/Getty Images
Cohen said the same candidate later “directed” him to make a second payment to keep another individual from disclosing damaging information about him. That was a reference to porn star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
Just days before the 2016 presidential election, Cohen facilitated a $130,000 payment to Daniels to keep her quiet about her allegation of having a 2006 affair with Trump – an allegation Trump has denied. The FBI was looking for documents related to that payment and similar arrangements with other women when it raided Cohen’s home, office, and hotel in April at the onset of the probe.
Cohen initially said this payment was not for the purpose of influencing an election but to prevent Trump’s family from learning of the embarrassing information. Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, made the same claim.
When Pauley asked Cohen if knew what he was doing was wrong and illegal, Cohen admitted he did.
The federal prosecutors Cohen struck a deal with said they had evidence proving Cohen’s guilt in the matter, stemming from records obtained from him that included audio tapes, texts, phone records, emails, witnesses with knowledge of the transactions, and records from The National Enquirer.
Pauley then read Cohen each count one by one, asking him to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
“Guilty,” Cohen repeated eight times. Pauley announced a sentencing hearing for Cohen on December 12. Bail was set at $500,000. As Cohen left the courthouse, he was greeted to chants of “lock him up” from onlookers, a reference to a popular chant Trump’s supporters directed at former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Soon after, Giuliani offered up a response. He called Cohen a liar.
“There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the president in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen,” Giuliani said. “It is clear that, as the prosecutor noted, Mr. Cohen’s actions reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time.”
Lanny Davis, one of Cohen’s attorneys, questioned how his client’s admission of guilt didn’t also implicate the president.
“Today he 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,” Davis said. “If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”
Ahead of a rally in West Virginia, Trump was asked about the Cohen news, along with the news that Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, was found guilty on eight counts.
He said nothing about Cohen.