Michael Cohen just pleaded guilty to criminal charges, now what?


Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen admitted to eight criminal charges. What does this mean for Trump and everyone else involved in the 2016 campaign?

This Tuesday, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts, including tax fraud and campaign finance violations. In the recent flood of courtroom drama, which includes the recent sentencing of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, this may not seem immediately noteworthy. After all, isn’t this another example of white-collar financial crime? Not at all. This is a big deal. Here’s why.

Cohen’s plea

Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion for an estimated $4 million in personal income from 2012 to 2016. He also admitted to charges of bank fraud, concerning $14 million in debt that he failed to disclose when applying for a $500,000 home equity loan.

That loan would go toward paying Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic actress also known as Stormy Daniels. Clifford alleged that Trump, when a presidential candidate, had an extramarital affair with her. Cohen, possibly with Trump’s knowledge, paid Clifford for her silence.

Cohen’s admission is notable in that this is the first time in which an official has admitted to wrongdoing connected to the 2016 Trump campaign. “I participated in this conduct,” he told the judge, “for the principal purpose of influencing the election.”

If convicted in full, all eight counts could earn Cohen a recommended sentence of 46 to 63 months in prison. He will face sentencing later this year, on December 12.

Because this is a plea deal, Cohen will not testify in public. This could mean that any information he divulges will likewise be kept private for some period of time.

What kind of information does Cohen have?

Right now, there is at least one major admission from Cohen: the fact that he helped “a candidate for federal office” to make payments to two women. In court, these women were left unnamed by Cohen. Said payments were done ahead of the 2016 presidential election, to help the very thinly-veiled candidate make it into office.

One of the two women is almost certainly the above-mentioned Stephanie Clifford. The other is former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who does not appear to have received direct payment from Cohen. However, he was involved in a complicated arrangement, wherein the tabloid National Enquirer bought the rights to her story of an affair with Trump and then declined to published.

Thanks to an agreement with the National Enquirer, McDougal could not bring her story to any other publication. She was therefore effectively silenced, and all too conveniently before the 2016 presidential election.

What does this mean for the Mueller investigation?

The current plea agreement does not oblige Cohen to talk with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III or his team. Then again, neither does it state that he will never talk with Mueller. Furthermore, his statements clearly implicate others involved, including Trump himself.

According to Cohen’s own lawyer, Lanny Davis, Cohen has plenty more information. “Mr. Cohen has knowledge on certain subjects that should be of interest to the special counsel and is more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows,” he said during an appearance on MSNBC.

Davis even suggested that Cohen had information about collusion and conspiracy to influence the 2016 presidential election. It would be a dramatic turn from someone who had partially built his reputation on loyalty to the president. Cohen even reportedly said he would take a bullet or jump out of a building for Trump.

If Cohen has relevant and weighty information for Mueller, then the special counsel could recommend a lighter sentence. Given that Cohen is facing significant prison time, a true plea bargain offered by Mueller could look very attractive right now.

What does this mean for Trump?

Bad things. But, is it bad enough to warrant major consequences? It’s hard to say, given that Clifford’s and McDougal’s allegations have already been reported. Neither did the Access Hollywood recordings — in which then-candidate Trump gleefully admitted to sexual assault — cost him the presidency. Currently, there is a possibility that the President will escape legal consequences, given some convenient loopholes in campaign finance law.

Meanwhile, Trump’s legal team is battening down the hatches. Presidential Attorney Rudy Giuliani pointed to what said was Cohen’s “pattern of lies and dishonesty”, further stating that “There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the president in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen.”

Then again, if it is proven to be true that Trump knew about these payments ahead of time, he could be in serious legal trouble. Cohen has already admitted to wrongdoing in a court of law. Moreover, he claims that he broke the law at the urging of a technically unnamed “candidate.” Practically speaking, the candidate in question can be no other than Donald Trump.

Also. Politics roundup: Brennan loses CIA security clearance. Who’s next?. light

So, is this the case that will finally break open the whole thing? It’s hard to get hopes too high, considering how many scandals have already broken upon the White House, and yet left its current occupant seemingly untouched.

This slow-motion Watergate could have ended other presidential administrations already. Although, there is no denying that Cohen’s plea deal could prove to be a significant point in the story of this administration.