President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty on Tuesday to eight criminal charges of tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations. He told a federal court in New York that Trump had directed him to arrange payments ahead of the 2016 presidential election to silence two women who said they had had affairs with Trump.
“Just because Michael Cohen made a plea deal doesn’t mean that that implicates the president on anything.” press secretary Sarah Sanders said at a White House briefing. “As the president has said, we’ve stated many times, he did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him.”
In the wake of Cohen’s plea, Senate Democrats on Wednesday demanded that upcoming confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh be delayed, with some calling Trump a “co-conspirator.”
The president lashed out at his former attorney in a Twitter post and said the campaign finance violations to which Cohen pleaded guilty were not a crime - even though prosecutors and Cohen agreed they were. Trump made the claim without offering any evidence.
“If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen,” Trump wrote.
At the same time, Trump used the social media site to praise his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted on Tuesday of multiple counts of fraud, as a “brave man” for not cooperating with federal authorities.
After first denying knowing anything about Cohen’s actions, Trump this year acknowledged he reimbursed Cohen for payments he made in 2016 to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Daniels has alleged she had a relationship with Trump.
In July, CNN released an audio recording reportedly made by Cohen that features the lawyer and Trump in September 2016 discussing whether to buy the rights to the story of Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who also has alleged an affair with Trump.
The president has insisted he paid Cohen out of personal funds and that the payments were not intended to benefit his campaign but to resolve a personal matter. “They weren’t taken out of campaign finance. That’s a big thing,” Trump told Fox. “They didn’t come out of the campaign; they came from me.”
By Jeff Mason and James Oliphant