Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer and “fixer,” Michael Cohen, has pleaded guilty to charges including campaign finance fraud stemming from hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal.
The 51-year-old Cohen told a federal court in New York on Wednesday morning (AEST) that he made the payments in coordination with Mr Trump, who wasn’t named, to influence the election.
Both women claimed Mr Trump had affairs with them, allegations the President denies.
Cohen also pleaded guilty to bank fraud and income tax evasion.
As part of his plea agreement, Cohen agreed not to challenge any sentence from 46 to 63 months.
Cohen’s plea follows months of federal scrutiny and a falling out with the President, whom he previously said he’d “take a bullet” for.
Mr Cohen worked at the Trump Organisation for more than a decade and continued to serve as the President’s personal lawyer after the 2016 US election.
He once famously vowed he would take a bullet for the president, but told America’s ABC News last month that his loyalty to his family and country came before Mr Trump.
Prosecutors had been investigating Mr Cohen for possible fraud related to his businesses for months and the FBI raided his hotel room, home and office on April 9, seizing more than 4 million items.
Mr Cohen was described as Mr Trump’s loyal “fixer” before the FBI raid. And Mr Trump branded it “a witch hunt,” an assault on attorney-client privilege and a politically motivated attack by enemies in the FBI.
But the President’s support for Mr Cohen degenerated into a public feud, prompting speculation that the former insider could be willing to tell prosecutors some of Mr Trump’s secrets.
The New York Times reported the plea agreement did not call for Mr Cohen to cooperate with federal prosecutors, but it did not preclude him from providing information to special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible involvement in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
If Mr Cohen were to substantially assist the investigation, Mr Mueller could in the future seek a reduction in his sentence, it reported.
The April FBI raid sought information on payments made to suppress negative information during the presidential campaign, including $US130,000 ($176.000) in hush money Mr Cohen paid days before the election to porn star Stormy Daniels, who alleges she had an affair with Mr Trump nearly a decade ago. Mr Trump has denied the affair.
Prosecutors have also been scrutinising a deal reportedly brokered by Mr Cohen with the publisher of the National Enquirer, which gave a $US150,000 ($204,000) contract during the 2016 election campaign to another woman who alleged an affair with Mr Trump.
The New York Times quoted anonymous sources this week as saying prosecutors have been focusing on more than $US20 million ($27 million) in loans obtained by taxi businesses that Mr Cohen and his family own.