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Cohen Tells Court He Committed Campaign Finance Violations at Candidate's Direction

Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, leaves his apartment building in New York on Aug. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

President Trump’s longtime former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen surrendered to the FBI today and pleaded guilty in a Manhattan courtroom to tax fraud, bank fraud and campaign finance violations in relation to payoffs to silence porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal over their alleged affairs with Trump.

Pleading guilty to eight felonies, Cohen told the judge in court that a $130,000 payment — what Daniels said Cohen paid her — was made “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” and was later repaid by the candidate. Cohen also admitted to arranging a $150,000 payment through American Media, the publisher of the National Enquirer, which purchased yet did not publish McDougal’s story before the election.

The Daniels payment was charged as an excessive personal contribution and the National Enquirer money was charged as an unlawful corporate contribution, both “for the principle purpose of influencing the election,” Cohen said in court.

The deal means Cohen can expect to spend between four and five years in prison. He’ll also have to pay about $1.5 million in back taxes, according to the plea agreement, and additional restitution as determined by the court.

When the judge asked Cohen if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Cohen said he’d had a scotch on the rocks the night before.

Cohen was released on $500,000 bond and is due to be sentenced Dec. 12. He did not speak with reporters outside the courtroom.

“The essence of what this case is about is justice, and that is an equal playing field for all persons in the eyes of the law—and that is a lesson that Mr. Cohen learned today, and it is a very harsh one for him,” Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami said outside the courtroom.

Khuzami said the charges “reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over an extended period of time.” He did not answer questions about the candidate referenced in court by Cohen; Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in May that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 payment to Daniels.

Khuzami, who signed off on the April raid on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room, said Cohen “worked to pay money to silence two women who had information that he believed would be detrimental to the 2016 campaign, and to the candidate and the campaign.”

After landing in West Virginia for campaign rally this evening, President Trump defended his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as “a good man” after Manafort was found guilty on eight counts of financial crimes today. He did not answer reporters’ questions about Cohen.

“We should all take a moment and applaud the tremendous courage and fortitude of @StormyDaniels, who has refused to be silent, who has refused to back down, and who has allowed facts to be presented in the court of public opinion, which some may argue is the most efficient,” tweeted Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti. “History will rightfully treat her as a hero for what lies ahead.”

“The developments of today will permit us to have the stay lifted in the civil case & should also permit us to proceed with an expedited deposition of Trump under oath about what he knew, when he knew it, and what he did about it,” Avenatti added. “We will disclose it all to the public.”

This story was updated at 6 p.m. EST