WASHINGTON – Michael Cohen, a former lawyer and fixer for Donald Trump before he became president, is a key witness in the New York investigation into hush-money payments to a porn actress.
A New York grand jury on Thursday voted to indict Trump on unspecified criminal charges in a case that marks the first time a former president has been charged criminally.
Although the charges were not made public, the grand jury had been investigating hush money payments to two women who claimed to have had sex with him.
Here’s what we know about Michael Cohen.
Who is Michael Cohen?
Cohen has already served his prison term after he admitted the charges related to a $130,000 payment leveled in Trump’s case. Robert Costello, a former adviser to Cohen allied with Trump, told the Manhattan grand jury Cohen sought revenge against the former president.
But Cohen said he engineered payments to silence two women who claimed to have had sex with Trump before the 2016 election. Cohen said Trump directed him to make the payments to avoid a scandal during that campaign. Cohen has spoken repeatedly to the grand jury.
Trump said the charges rely “on the testimony of a convicted felon, disbarred lawyer, with zero credibility.” The Justice Department investigated and decided against pursuing charges.
Cohen: Trump is a ‘racist,’ a ‘con man’ and a ‘cheat’
Cohen delivered a searing account of his dealings with Trump during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in February 2019, when he called Trump a “racist,” a “con man” and a “cheat.” Cohen accused Trump of misrepresenting the value of his real estate for taxes and insurance and urging Cohen to lie to Congress about a Russian real estate deal, but the hush payments got the most attention.
- Oct. 8, 2016, Cohen spoke with Trump and his campaign spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, after learning porn actress Stormy Daniels planned to talk to “Good Morning America” and Slate about her alleged relationship with Trump from 2006, the year Melania Trump gave birth to their son.
- Cohen then communicated with American Media executives David Pecker and Dylan Howard, who published the National Enquirer, about buying the rights to Daniels’ story, to prevent it from becoming public under a strategy called “catch and kill.”
- Oct. 10, 2016, Howard texted Cohen and Keith Davidson, a lawyer for Daniels and Karen McDougal, a Playboy model who also alleged she had sex with Trump.
- Oct. 27, 2016, Cohen transferred $130,000 to Davidson through a company called Essential Consultants.
- Nov. 1, 2016, Davidson transferred the money to Daniels.
“I have done bad things, but I am not a bad man,” Cohen testified in February 2019. “I have fixed things, but I am no longer your fixer, Mr. Trump.”
What crimes did Cohen admit?
In August 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court to concealing more than $4 million in personal income from the IRS, making false statements about a home equity loan, and “causing $280,000 in payments to be made to silence two women who otherwise planned to speak publicly about their alleged affairs with a presidential candidate, thereby intending to influence the 2016 presidential election,” according to court records.
Prosecutors said Cohen arranged a $150,000 payment to McDougal and a $130,000 payment to Daniels.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison, but was released early to home detention because of the spread of COVID-19.
What does Costello say about Cohen?
Costello told reporters March 20 he told the grand jury Cohen was “totally unreliable.” Costello suggested Cohen acted on his own and arranged the payment to Daniels on his own.
“He’s on the revenge tour,” said Costello, who was tapped by the Trump legal team to testify.
Cohen dismissed Costello’s argument that he acted along.
“His facts are all twisted,” Cohen told MSNBC, adding that Trump’s defense “will fail.”
“It’s absolutely not true,” Cohen said.