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Cohen pleads guilty, Manafort convicted of 8 counts

Michael Cohen, former lawyer to US President Donald Trump, exits the Federal Courthouse on August 21, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by AFP)

US President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to several counts of felony, delivering a potentially significant legal blow to the businessman-turned-politician.

Cohen pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a total of eight federal charges, including bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations.

The eight counts entailed five counts of tax evasion involving nearly $4 million, one count of making a false statement to a financial institution, one count of willful cause of unlawful corporate contribution from June 2016 to October 2016 and one excessive campaign contribution on October 27, 2016.

The campaign finance charges against the US president’s ex-attorney stemmed from payments he had made as hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who had alleged sexual affairs with the billionaire businessman.

Cohen admitted that he had done so at the direction of Trump and for the principal purpose of swaying election results.

“Mr. Cohen decided he was above the law, and for that he is going to pay a very serious price,” said deputy US attorney Robert Khuzami outside the district courthouse in Manhattan.

Cohen admitted to attempting to hide billings he had made to “the candidate” for keeping the two women quiet, Khuzami said, by submitting invoices for legal services in 2017.

“What he did was he worked to pay money to silence two women who had information that he believed would be detrimental to the 2016 campaign, to the candidate and the campaign,” Khuzami said.

Deputy US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Robert Khuzami speaks to the media about the Michael Cohen case outside of federal court August 21, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by AFP)

In fact there were no such services and the invoices sought reimbursement for the hush payments, according to the deputy attorney.

Khuzami accused Cohen of “a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time” that was “particularly significant when done by a lawyer.”

Cohen also admitted to hiding $4.3 million in income over a five-year period, including receipts from loans, from his taxi business and from brokerage commissions. The move resulted in $1.3 million in unpaid taxes.

"Today, he stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election," said Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis. "If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn't they be a crime for Donald Trump?”

Cohen spent years working for the Trump Organization and until recently served as the deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Cohen could face more than five years in prison. He may also be required to cooperate with investigators probing the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, which is alleged to have worked in favor of the then-Republican candidate.

Meanwhile, comedian and actress Kathy Griffin, a frequent critic of Trump, highlighted an old tweet from Cohen about 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton going to prison.

Trump facing a double whammy

Also on Tuesday, Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty of eight charges by a federal jury in Virginia, including bank fraud, tax fraud and failure to report a foreign bank account.

After four days of deliberation, the jury found Manafort guilty of two of nine bank fraud charges, all five tax fraud charges and one of four charges of failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. The former campaign chief had initially been charged with a total 18 counts of fraud.

Judge T.S. Ellis declared a mistrial on 10 of the 18 counts after the jury couldn’t reach a unanimous consensus on those charges, also giving prosecutors until August 29 to decide whether to retry Manafort on the remaining charges.

The convictions could send the former Trump campaign manager to prison for up to 80 years.

Manafort's trial was the first to come as a result of US Special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

In comments to reporters en route to a rally in West Virginia, Trump called the Manafort verdict “a very sad thing,” and again slammed the investigation as a “witch hunt.”

US President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Charleston Civic Center on August 21, 2018 in Charleston, West Virginia. (Photo by AFP)

“It’s a very sad thing that happened. This has nothing to do with Russian collusion. This started as Russian collusion. This has absolutely nothing to do - it is a witch hunt and it's a disgrace,” Trump said.

“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort. Again, he worked for Bob Dole. He worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for many people, and this is the way it ends up,” he added.

Mueller, a former FBI director, has been running a high-profile investigation into allegations that the Republican presidential candidate won the 2016 US presidential election against Clinton only because Moscow had rigged the election in his favor.

US intelligence agencies claim Russia-linked hackers provided WikiLeaks with damaging information -- in the form of thousands of hacked emails -- about Clinton to skew the 2016 presidential election in favor of Trump.

Trump has repeatedly denied allegations that his campaign colluded with Russians and has condemned the investigations. Russian President Putin has also denied the allegations.

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