US President Donald Trump‘s former lawyer Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty in a Manhattan court to violating campaign finance laws.
He said he did so at the direction of “the candidate” and that he acted for the “purpose of influencing election”.
Mr Cohen‘s admission was related to hush money paid to women who had claimed to have had affairs with Mr Trump.
The 51-year-old admitted eight counts, including tax and bank fraud in a plea deal with prosecutors.
In the court on Tuesday he said that he had been directed by “a candidate for federal office” to break federal election laws.
The charges against him could carry prison time.
He has pleaded guilty to:
- Five counts of tax evasion
- One of making false statements to a financial institution
- One of willfully causing an unlawful corporate contribution
- One of making an excessive campaign contribution at request of a candidate or campaign
His sentencing is scheduled for 12 December.
A judge ruled that he can be released on Tuesday after posting a bail of $US500,000 and surrendering his passport and any firearms that he may own.
Mr Cohen previously admitted to arranging hush money for a woman who claimed she had an affair with Mr Trump.
The plea came as a jury in Alexandria, Virginia, reached a partial guilty verdict on bank and tax fraud charges against Paul Manafort, Mr Trump‘s campaign chairman during the 2016 presidential election.
The nature of the reported plea deal is unclear and does not necessarily entail that Mr Cohen is co-operating against the president.
It could simply mean he has agreed to plead guilty to unspecified charges in order to spare both sides a lengthy trial.
According to Politico, a source close to Mr Cohen said he agreed to the deal “to save millions of dollars, protect his family, and limit his exposure”.
Mr Cohen worked at the Trump Organization for more than a decade and continued to serve as Mr Trump‘s personal lawyer and fixer after the 2016 election.
The New York Times reported on Sunday night that federal investigators were looking into Mr Cohen‘s business activities.
They were focusing on more than $US20m in loans to taxi businesses owned by Mr Cohen and his family, according to the newspaper.
The FBI seized a number of files in April on Mr Cohen‘s office and a hotel room used by him in New York.
They reportedly conducted the raid following a tip-off from the team of special counsel Robert Mueller.
Mr Mueller is investigating whether Trump campaign aides colluded with alleged Kremlin attempts to sway the 2016 presidential election his way.
Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) – almost unheard of. Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client – totally unheard of & perhaps illegal. The good news is that your favorite President did nothing wrong!
— Donald J. Trump ()
The FBI swoop triggered outraged tweets from Mr Trump, who called it “inconceivable” and “almost unheard of”.
The president has distanced himself from Mr Cohen since he left his post as Mr Trump‘s personal lawyer in May.
The investigation into Mr Cohen‘s business dealings has strained his relationship with the president.
He once famously vowed he would take a bullet for Mr Trump. But he said in an interview last month that his loyalty to his family and country came before his old boss.
What was the hush money about?
In May, the president admitted he had reimbursed Mr Cohen for a payment he made to silence adult film actress Stormy Daniels about her alleged affair with Mr Trump just days before the election.
Mr Trump had previously denied all knowledge of the $US130,000 payment as part of a non-disclosure agreement.
Last month it also emerged that Mr Cohen had made a secret recording of the president, in which they discuss a payment to buy the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal‘s story from the parent company of the National Enquirer tabloid.
Ms McDougal had sold her story to the Enquirer in the run-up to the presidential election.
Undisclosed payments on behalf of a political candidate could be considered a violation of US campaign finance laws.
The lawyer for Ms Daniels – who is suing both Mr Trump and Mr Cohen for defamation – tweeted that today‘s developments will help her to win her case against the president.
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. We will disclose it all to the public.
— Michael Avenatti ()
Mr Trump has yet to comment on the latest developments. He has a pre-scheduled rally planned for Tuesday night in West Virginia.