Michael Cohen, President Trump's longtime fixer and personal lawyer, implicated Trump directly in campaign finance crimes after pleading guilty to eight criminal charges Tuesday as part of an agreement with federal prosecutors in Manhattan.
The charges include five counts of tax evasion, one count of bank fraud, and two campaign finance violations that stem from hush-money payments intended to silence two women who claimed they'd had affairs with Trump — porn star Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal.
Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court, Cohen told Judge William H. Pauley III the payments made to Daniels and McDougal were made "in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office," understood to be Trump.
"I participated in this conduct, which on my part took place in Manhattan, for the principal purpose of influencing the election," Cohen said.
Robert Khuzami, the deputy U.S. attorney with the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, told reporters at a news conference that Cohen made the payments during the 2016 presidential campaign for the "principal purpose of influencing" the election. Cohen then submitted "sham invoices" for nonexistent legal services to the Trump Organization for reimbursement for those payments.
Cohen was released on $500,000 bond and exited the courthouse to chants of "Lock him up!" Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 12, and Cohen faces a likely prison sentence of 46 to 63 months.
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Top Republicans in both the House and Senate have largely remained silent following Cohen's guilty plea and his implication of President Trump in illegal campaign payments during the 2016 election.
Sen. John Cornyn (R, Texas), the Senate majority whip, told reporters that people like Cohen who break the law "need to be held accountable."
"But this doesn't add anything to the allegations of misconduct relative to the Russia investigation," Cornyn added.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office did not respond to a request for comment. Paul Ryan, the top Republican in the House, declined to offer an opinion on either Cohen's guilty plea or the guilty verdict of Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman.
"We are aware of Mr. Cohen's guilty plea to these serious charges," Ryan's spokesperson said in a statement. "We will need more information than is currently available at this point."
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy also avoided commenting on either Cohen or Manafort, but did comment on the murder of Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old Iowa student who officials say was killed by an undocumented immigrant named Cristhian Rivera.
Stepping off Air Force One ahead of a 7 p.m. rally tonight in West Virginia, Trump told reporters that "the witch hunt continues."
"This has nothing to do with Russian collusion … absolutely nothing to do with Russian collusion," the president told reporters. "This is a witch hunt, a disgrace."
Trump called the guilty verdict of his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, "sad." He didn't address questions from reporters about Cohen.
As part of his plea agreement, Cohen said that he worked "in coordination with and at the direction of" of then-candidate Trump to pay off Daniels and ex-Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal to silence their allegations ahead of the 2016 election, according to several reporters in the courtroom.
"Cohen just directly implicated Trump," wrote New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman.
In court, Cohen said the payments were "for the principal purpose of influencing the election," the Times reported.
In a separate trial in Alexandria, Va., former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been found guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud, according to the Associated Press.
Judge T.S. Ellis declared a mistrial on the 10 other charges Manafort faced after jurors couldn't reach a consensus.
Manafort, who served as Trump's campaign chairman during the 2016 campaign, pleaded not guilty. The jury deliberated for four days before announcing the verdict.
In a joint statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R, N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (R, Va.) said they "recently re-engaged" Michael Cohen and his team following reports Trump's former lawyer had advance knowledge of a controversial campaign meeting at Trump Tower.
Burr and Warner said that Cohen had previously testified to the committee he was "not aware of the meeting prior to its disclosure in the press last summer," and said Cohen recently told the committee that "he did stand by his testimony."
"We hope that today's developments and Mr. Cohen's plea agreement will not preclude his appearance before our Committee as needed for our ongoing investigation," the statement said.
Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Daniels, told MSNBC he was "100 percent" sure Trump's former lawyer would offer "damaging information" about the president.
"Back in early April, I stated that ultimately he was going to be charged and he was going to roll over on the president, and I'm going to maintain that position," Avenatti said. "Of all the people the president should have shown loyalty to, I guess beyond Vlady Putin, Michael Cohen should have been second on the list."
Following reports that Cohen had agreed to accept a plea deal, a December 2015 tweet Trump's former lawyer wrote about former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was re-shared widely on Twitter.
In the tweet, written before Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination, Cohen suggested that Clinton was headed to prison for unspecified crimes.
Implicating President Trump as part of his plea agreement marks a dramatic reversal for Cohen, who in the past had professed total loyalty to Trump and told Vanity Fair he "would take a bullet for the president." And while there is no mention of cooperation in today's court documents, Lanny Davis, Cohen's lawyer who served as former President Bill Clinton's special counsel during Clinton's presidential impeachment hearings, has signaled that his client would be willing to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russia's attack on the 2016 election.
Seth Hettena, a veteran journalist who chronicled Trump's business career in Trump/Russia: A Definitive History, told ABC News back in June that Cohen was "the guy who knows where all the bodies are buried."
Last month, both CNN and NBC News reported that Cohen was ready to tell prosecutors that Trump knew in advance about a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower where top campaign officials expected to receive dirt about Hillary Clinton from Russians. Trump has maintained he wasn't made aware of the meeting, though he has admitted on Twitter that the purpose of the meeting was "to get information on an opponent."