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NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 12: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, arrives at federal court for his sentencing hearing, December 12, 2018 in New York City. Cohen is set to be sentenced by a federal judge after pleading guilty in August to several charges, including multiple counts of tax evasion, a campaign finance violation and lying to Congress. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

How Michael Cohen broke campaign finance law

Michael Cohen was sentenced to 36 months in prison on Wednesday, in part for “brazen violations of the election laws” when he orchestrated hush money payments on behalf of President Donald Trump during the 2016 election, according to federal prosecutors.

Earlier this year Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance law and other offenses as part of a plea agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. Separately, Cohen pleaded guilty for lying to Congress about the Trump Organization’s efforts to develop a new property in Moscow during the presidential campaign, an admission that came as part of a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

READ MORE: Major moments from Michael Cohen’s long history with Trump

With Cohen now headed to prison, here is a look back at how exactly he broke the law.

  • During the 2016 election, Cohen paid $130,000 to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, and arranged for a publishing company to pay $150,000 to model Karen McDougal for her story in exchange for the women agreeing to not go public with allegations that they had affairs with Trump. (Trump has denied having affairs with either Clifford or McDougal.)
  • Prosecutors said the purpose of the hush payments was to influence the 2016 election, and treated them as campaign contributions, which are subject to restrictions under the Federal Election Campaign Act.
  • Cohen’s payment to Clifford, they said, exceeded the $2,700 limit on personal contributions to a single candidate for an election. The payment he helped arrange for McDougal flouted the ban on corporations contributing directly to campaigns.

The case has some parallels to the federal campaign finance prosecution of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, a two-time Democratic presidential candidate. Edwards was indicted in 2011 on charges that he was part of a scheme during his 2008 campaign to have two of his supporters spend almost $1 million to conceal an affair.

Prosecutors argued that the payments were tantamount to illegal campaign contributions, but the Justice Department eventually dropped its case against Edwards after trial jurors deadlocked on five of the criminal counts against him and acquitted him on the sixth.

Cohen was sentenced Wednesday not just for the campaign finance offenses, but also for tax evasion and bank fraud.

In court filings last week, attorneys for the special counsel detailed Cohen’s cooperation with the Russia probe and noted that Cohen could continue cooperating with investigators moving forward.

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