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Michael Cohen, personal attorney for President Donald Trump, talks to reporters as he departs after meeting with Senate Intelligence Committee staff as the panel investigates alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Michael Cohen’s plea deal, explained

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former attorney, pleaded guilty today to eight charges in federal court.

They included tax evasion and bank fraud but also campaign finance violations, specifically for his role in payments made to women to keep them from talking about alleged affairs with Trump ahead of the 2016 election.

Reminder: Who is Michael Cohen?

What does the 22-page plea deal tell us? Here are some highlights:

  • The Trump Campaign, the candidate and campaign violations. There’s something interesting here. In court documents, Cohen said he worked with the campaign to keep two women who alleged Trump affairs quiet. But those documents do not say this was at the direction of the president. That charge instead came verbally from Cohen in open court Tuesday. The Associated Press wrote that Cohen told the judge that some questionable payments were “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.” This leads us to ask more questions, including: Why didn’t prosecutors put this accusation in writing?
  • Cohen may not have been doing any legal work for Trump after he became president. And that could affect attorney-client privilege. Digest this rare sentence, near the top of the document, “In or about January 2017, Cohen … began holding himself out as ‘personal attorney’ to Individual-1, who at that point had become the President of the United States.” Set aside the highly unusual attempt at making the president of the United States anonymous. Here, prosecutors are careful to say that Cohen merely was claiming to be an attorney for Trump, as opposed to actually doing legal work. This tells us there may be a battle over whether the president could invoke attorney-client privilege with Cohen.
  • Tax fraud years: Cohen is charged with hiding more than $4 million in income from the IRS between 2012 and 2016. Most of this came from interest on personal loans he made to others. This tells us that Cohen was involved in tax fraud during some pivotal years he was also with the Trump Organization.
  • Financial problems timing: Cohen concealed a $14 million debt from a bank when he applied for a loan to buy an $8.5 million summer home in 2015, according to prosecutors. Why this may matter: Around this time, Cohen was working on a deal with Russians to build Trump Properties in Moscow. But he was personally struggling with money.


What does Michael Cohen’s guilty plea mean for Trump? Judy Woodruff learns more from Jessica Roth of Yeshiva University Cardozo School of Law Andrea Bernstein of WNYC.

What’s next?

Cohen faces a likely sentence somewhere in the range of 46 to 63 months — and a fine of between $20,000 and $1 million on top of back taxes estimated at $1.4 million. He has not agreed to cooperate with prosecutors at this point. Any such agreement could affect his sentencing.

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