On August 21, Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer, plead guilty to 8 charges, including campaign finance crimes.
Mr. Cohen admitted to paying Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, $130,000 for her silence. He also coordinated a $150,000 payment by the National Enquirer to former Playboy model Karen McDougal for her story.
He claimed that both payments were made with the intention of influencing the election and they were made at the direction of the, then presidential candidate, Donald Trump.
This claim implicated the president in a federal crime and goes against previous claims from the President that he was unaware of the payments at the time they were made.
The plea deal doesn’t require Cohen to cooperate with prosecutors, though he still has the option of providing information to Robert Mueller’s investigation.The deal also states that Cohen will serve four to five years in prison and must pay a $20,000 to $1 million fine
Within minutes of the Michael Cohen pleading guilty in Manhattan, the first trial of the Robert Mueller probe came to an end in Alexandria, Virginia. The jury found Paul Manafort, former chairman of the Trump campaign, guilty of 8 out of 18 counts, including five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failing to disclose a foreign bank account. The judge declared a mistrial on the last 10 counts.
The Manafort trial did not address reports of Russian collusion, the main focus of the Mueller probe, that will be covered in a second trial set to start September 24 in Washington DC. The August trial instead focused on Manafort’s personal finances, including the millions he made advising a pro-Russia political party in the Ukraine. The prosecution displayed the lavish lifestyle Manafort lived, including a $15,000 Ostrich Jacket, $1,500 dress shirts, and a flowerbed in the shape of an “M” at his Hamptons estate.
Prosecutors also had to prove that Manafort has concealed $60 million in 31 foreign bank accounts that he lied to the US government about.
Witnesses included Rick Gates, a long time business associate of Paul Manafort who served as a deputy under Manafort while he was chairman of the Trump campaign, and accountant Cynthia Laporta.
Gates was on the stand longer than any other witness. The defense tried to discredit him and paint him as the mastermind behind the crimes.
Gates also testified that Manafort approached him with the idea of making Stephen Calk, the founder and CEO of Federal Savings Bank, Secretary of the Navy, along with other favors. Federal Savings Bank gave Manafort a sizeable loan during the period in 2016 when Manafort was working pro-bono for the Trump campaign and had no income.
The prosecution claimed that banks like Federal Savings Bank gave Manafort these loans, adding up to around $20 million, because he added millions of dollars in fake income to his financial statements. The defense denied this, claiming that banks knew of Mr. Manafort’s net worth of over $20 million and that his valuable real estate served as a form of collateral.
Cynthia Laporta, an accountant for Mr. Manafort who was granted immunity, also testified that she was forwarded documents from Paul Manafort to bank loan official, even though she believed they were falsified.