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Michael Cohen, Trump's Former Lawyer, Expected To Enter Plea Agreement


On the same day that President Trump's former campaign chairman was found guilty on tax and bank fraud charges, the president's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to several financial crimes and to two campaign finance violations. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now to talk about the Cohen case and its potential significance. Hey there, Tam.


CORNISH: So what did Cohen plead to?

KEITH: So there are five counts of tax avoidance, one count of bank fraud for not disclosing a really huge amount of debt that he had when he secured a home equity line of credit, and then there are also two campaign finance violations that relate directly to President Trump. He isn't named in the documents, but it is clearly related to his campaign.

CORNISH: So unpack that a little more.

KEITH: Yeah. So one of the counts is causing an unlawful corporate contribution. And, you know, based on the dates and other information, it's clear that that relates to a payment made to former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal. She claims she had an affair for President Trump about a decade or so ago. And she was paid by the parent company of the National Enquirer for the rights to her story, a story that she did not tell before the presidential election. The second is a charge of making an excessive donation to a campaign, and that appears to be for the payment of $130,000 that was given to Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, the porn star, just before the election, again, to buy her silence. Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami spoke outside of the courthouse in New York today.


ROBERT KHUZAMI: 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 and to the candidate and the campaign. In addition, Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement for that money by submitting invoices to the candidate's company which were untrue and false.

CORNISH: That's Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami. And he mentions a candidate there, but he doesn't say the candidate's name. How come?

KEITH: Well, so the candidate, although his name is not mentioned - the one who shall not be named - is clearly President Trump. This is Michael Cohen, the person who was a close lawyer to President Trump and sort of his fixer for years. And Cohen in court also said that he made these payments at the direction of the candidate, that candidate clearly not Hillary Clinton. But, you know, it's important to note that there is a widespread legal opinion and also precedent that says that the president of the United States cannot be indicted while in office.

CORNISH: Has there been any reaction from the White House?

KEITH: Yes, there has, first from President Trump. He landed in West Virginia for a campaign rally, and he on the tarmac said that he feels badly for both Michael Cohen and for Paul Manafort, Manafort being his former campaign chairman who was convicted on eight counts today. And then also there's a statement from Rudy Giuliani. He's counsel to the president, outside counsel. He says that there is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the president in the government's charges against Mr. Cohen, adding, it is clear that, as the prosecutors noted, Mr. Cohen's actions reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time.

And more broadly, President Trump has been calling this investigation - the special counsel investigation - a witch hunt. His argument on that is that people like Cohen and Manafort are now charged with things that are pretty far afield from Russian interference in the presidential election.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Tamara, thanks for your reporting.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.