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Trump's Former Lawyer Michael Cohen Reaches Plea Deal With Federal Authorities


OK, big developments today in two federal courtrooms for two close associates of President Trump. In northern Virginia, Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted on eight counts of tax and bank fraud. But the jury did not reach a verdict on 10 other counts. We'll be digging into the implications of that elsewhere in the program.


And just before that news broke, we learned that in Manhattan, President Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to charges including campaign finance violations, which has a direct link to payments made to women claiming affairs with Trump. Here's U.S. attorney Robert Khuzami.


ROBERT KHUZAMI: These are very serious charges and reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over an extended period of time.

CORNISH: Andrea Bernstein of member station WNYC had a front-row seat in the courtroom. She joins us now. And take us through this scene. How did this unfold today?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: So we learned at about the middle of the day that they were putting up barricades outside the courthouse shortly after there was a press release that said there's something happening at 4. o'clock So the - by 4 p.m., the courtroom was packed. The reporters filed in, then the prosecution. And then Michael Cohen walked in from a side door, sat at the defense table alone before the court proceedings began.

CORNISH: What more can you tell us about the charges? I think it's not so easy to understand how this broke down.

BERNSTEIN: So Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal counts today. Five of them involved failing to report income, often known as tax evasion. One of them involved giving false information for a bank - to a bank in order to get a loan. But the two most dramatic had to do with campaign finance violations. And this has to do with payments that he arranged to women who had had affairs with then-candidate Donald Trump.

And he said, in the summer of 2016, in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for a federal office, I and the CEO of a media company - he's talking about the CEO of the company that owns the National Enquirer - worked together to keep an individual from publicly disclosing an affair. So that was one of the counts which had to do with a corporate contribution.

And then he said that he personally paid another woman - in this case we know it's Stormy Daniels, although that name was not mentioned - $130,000. And he said, I did this for the principal purpose of influencing an election. And the judge said, did you know this was wrong? And he said, yes, your honor. I knew it was wrong and illegal.

CORNISH: What about any agreement as part of this deal to cooperate with the Mueller investigation? Is that something that's in the mix still?

BERNSTEIN: There was no mention of any agreement in the courtroom today. And in fact, at one point the judge said, I can sentence you up to 65 years in jail for these charges. Do you understand that? And if you've been told a number, it doesn't apply because I can sentence you up to that amount. And then Michael Cohen paused and sighed and said, yes, your honor.

CORNISH: How significant this when it comes to the personal history between these two men?

BERNSTEIN: So Michael Cohen was extremely loyal to Donald Trump. He'd gone to work for him in about 2007. He fought off all comers. And he said he'd take a bullet for Donald Trump. And now he stood up in a federal courthouse and said, I committed two federal crimes at the direction of a candidate for federal office. Well, we all know that person to be Donald Trump. It's a very significant development not only for Cohen and Trump but for all the prosecutions involved in the Trump campaign.

CORNISH: That's WNYC's Andrea Bernstein in New York. Thank you so much.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Bernstein