‘IT’S A LIE’: Cohen backs away from plea bargain claims

NEW YORK — Michael Cohen, who once served as President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, is walking back claims he made as part of his plea bargain according to a report published by the Wall Street Journal.

Cohen, who pled guilty to eight criminal charges, including campaign-finance violations regarding hush-money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, now claims he did not commit tax evasion and that a criminal charge related to a home-equity line of credit was “a lie.”

“There is no tax evasion,” the Journal claims Cohen said during a secretly recorded phone call with former television star Tom Arnold, a vocal critic of the president. “And the Heloc? I have an 18% loan-to-value on my home. How could there be a Heloc issue? How? Right? . . . It’s a lie.”

During the call, Cohen, who is preparing to face a three-year prison sentence in exchange for testifying against the president, said he felt like a man “all alone.”

“You would think that you would have folks, you know, stepping up and saying, ‘You know what, this guy’s lost everything,'” Cohen said.

“My family’s happiness, and my law license. I lost my business . . . my insurance, my bank accounts, all for what? All for what? Because Trump, you know, had an affair with a porn star? That’s really what this is about.”

Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, told CNN in response to the report that nothing Cohen said to Arnold during the course of the phone conversation “contradicts Mr. Cohen’s previous defense attorney, Guy Petrillo, in his sentencing memorandum to the presiding federal US District Court Judge William H. Pauley III back in December.”

“I would also add the important words used by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and others, in describing Michael Cohen’s cooperation and testimony as ‘credible’ addressing the ‘core’ issues involved in his investigation,” Davis said.

According to the Journal report, Cohen told Arnold that he agreed to the plea deal in order to protect his wife.

“I love this woman,” Cohen said. “I am not going to let her get dragged into the mud of this crap, and I never thought the judge was going to throw a three-year fricking sentence.”

Cohen is scheduled to begin his prison sentence on May 6.

Trump and Cohen during a campaign stop at the New Spirit Revival Center church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio

BUSTED! ‘Creepy porn lawyer’ Michael Avenatti charged in $20 million extortion case

NEW YORK — Michael Avanetti, best known for representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against President Donald Trump, was arrested Monday and charged with extorting between $15 and $25 million from Nike, the sports apparel giant.

Avanetti, an outspoken critic of president Trump, had at one time vowed to make it his “life’s work” to see Trump indicted on charges of rigging the 2016 presidential election. The New York based attorney’s arrest comes just one day after a report released by special counsel Robert Mueller cleared the president of such allegations.

Prosecutors allege that Avenatti, who claimed to have “dirt” on the Nike corporation, had threatened “to use his ability to garner publicity to inflict substantial financial and reputational harm on the company if his demands were not met.”

“As alleged, Michael Avenatti approached Nike last week with a list of financial demands in exchange for covering up allegations of misconduct on behalf of the company,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge William Sweeney Jr. said in a released statement. “The lofty price tag included a $1.5 million payoff for Avenatti’s client and upwards of tens of millions of dollars for the legal services of his firm – services Nike never requested. This is nothing more than a straightforward case of extortion.”

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Monday that Avenatti, 48, had engaged in “a shakedown” against the company.

“Our system of justice requires and relies on attorneys, members of the bar, to not simply follow the law, but uphold its finest principles and ideals,” Berman said in a statement. “But when lawyers use their law licenses as weapons, as a guise to extort payments for themselves, they are no longer acting as attorneys. They are acting as criminals, and they will be held responsible for their conduct.”

Co-named in the allegations against Avanetti Monday was Mark Geragos, an attorney who has represented such defendants as Michael Jackson, accused killer Scott Peterson and — more recently — “Empire” star Jussie Smollett, who was charged with falsely reporting a hate crime. Geragos also works as a contributor to CNN.

So far Avanetti has been charged with extortion, transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort, conspiracy to transmit interstate communications with intent to extort, and conspiracy to commit extortion.

Avenatti has also been charged with wire fraud and bank fraud in a separate case in California.

Daniels, who claims she terminated Avanetti as her attorney a month ago, says she was not shocked to hear of his arrest.

“Knowing what I know now about Michael Avenatti, I am saddened but not shocked by news reports that he has been criminally charged today,” Daniels told reporters. “I made the decision more than a month ago to terminate Michael’s services after discovering that he had dealt with me extremely dishonestly and there will be more announcements to come.”

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BOMBSHELLS ON THE HILL: Cohen slams Trump during hearing as GOP attempts to assassinate his credibility

WASHINGTON (Fox News) — Michael Cohen, the former fixer about to begin a three-year prison term, completed his renunciation of President Trump during an explosive congressional hearing Wednesday that left no room for reconciliation – calling his former boss a racist, testifying he was aware of an adviser’s talks with WikiLeaks about stolen Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign and alleging he oversaw an array of illicit schemes during the 10 years they worked together.

“He is a racist. He is a conman. And he is a cheat,” Cohen testified, setting the tone for the hearing. After outlining numerous alleged misdeeds by Trump, Cohen expressed regret and repeated the refrain “yet I continued to work for him.”

Yet Cohen stopped short of saying he had evidence that Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russia in 2016, asserting he had only “suspicions.” And Republicans on the House Oversight Committee repeatedly struck at Cohen’s credibility, pointing out that he is a convicted liar and suggesting he only turned on Trump after not landing a White House job.

“You’re behaving just like everyone else who got fired or didn’t get the job they wanted,” Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, the ranking member on the committee, said. Cohen denied this to be the case.

The fiery testimony marked a remarkable turn for someone who once claimed he’d be willing to take a bullet for Trump.

Cohen came to the hearing with a slew of exhibits, including checks he says are proof for his previous claims that Trump organized hush-money payments to two women, including adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claimed affairs with Trump during the campaign. He accused Trump of being involved in a “criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.”

“I am going to jail in part because of my decision to help Mr. Trump hide that payment from the American people before they voted a few days later,” said Cohen, who worked as Trump’s personal lawyer.

He waded into the investigation over Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, accusing Trump of knowing that an adviser, Roger Stone, was reaching out to WikiLeaks about the publication of stolen Democratic National Committee emails during the campaign. Trump has denied advance knowledge.

On Wednesday, Stone denied the claim, telling Fox News: “Mr. Cohen’s statement is not true.” WikiLeaks also released a statement saying, “WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange has never had a telephone call with Roger Stone.”

Cohen did not claim Trump directed those communications. He specifically asserted that he lacks direct evidence of improper collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia.

“Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia,” Cohen testified. “I do not. I want to be clear. But, I have my suspicions.”

Still, Democrats pushed an unproven theory that Trump, along with his family, could be compromised by the Russians. “Is it possible the whole family is conflicted or compromised with a foreign adversary in the months before the election?” Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, asked Cohen. Wasserman led the committee when emails were hacked.

“Yes,” Cohen replied.

Under questioning from Illinois Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Cohen suggested the Southern District of New York could be investigating the president for other crimes. “Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven’t yet discussed today?” Krishnamoorthi asked.

“Yes and again those are part of the investigation currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York,” Cohen said.

Cohen, under questioning from New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, claimed Trump reported inflated estimates of his assets to insurance companies.

Cohen said he began questioning his loyalty to Trump after the Trump-Putin summit in Helskini in 2018 and the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville in 2017.

The much-awaited hearing began with fireworks, as Republicans portrayed Cohen as a liar and unsuccessfully moved to postpone the hearing. In his opening statement, Democratic Chairman Elijah Cummings acknowledged that Cohen “repeatedly lied in the past,” calling it an “important factor we need to weigh.” He said if Cohen doesn’t tell the truth, he’ll refer him to the Justice Department for prosecution.

But Cummings said the hearing is important for understanding the president’s past actions, saying “the days of this committee protecting the president at all costs are over.”

Jordan, the ranking member on the committee, ripped Democrats for calling Cohen to testify, accusing Democrats of holding the hearing so they can later try to impeach the president.

“The first announced witness for the 116th Congress is a guy who is going to prison in two months for lying to Congress,” Jordan said.

Cohen admitted telling falsities in the past, but said he’s coming clean now: “I have lied, but I am not a liar. I have done bad things, but I am not a bad man.” He said he would not ask for or accept a pardon from Trump.

Among other claims, Cohen on Wednesday pointed to an “unusual” episode in Trump Tower in approximately June 2016, when Donald Trump, Jr. supposedly whispered about a “meeting” in Trump’s ear — followed allegedly by Trump’s reply, “Ok, good. Let me know.”

According to Cohen, “nothing went on in Trump world, especially the campaign, without Mr. Trump’s knowledge and approval.”

“So, I concluded that Don Jr. was referring to that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting about dirt on Hillary with the Russian representative when he walked behind his dad’s desk that day,” he said.

That meeting has long been a subject of contention, with participants supposedly promised dirt on Clinton, despite subsequent claims that the meeting dealt instead with other topics. Trump has maintained that he did not know in advance about the meeting — backing up Trump Jr., who told the Senate Judiciary Committee the same thing in September 2017 and would face potential criminal liability if he were lying.

Cohen outlined a slew of other alleged misdeeds by Trump, including lying about his total assets to reduce his taxes and even trying to strong-arm academic officials into keeping his SAT scores and grades secret. And he repeatedly accused Trump of racism.

“While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way,” Cohen said. “And, he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid. And yet I continued to work for him.”

Early Wednesday, Trump tweeted that Cohen was “lying in order to reduce his prison time,” and referred to published reports that Cohen had been disbarred by the New York State Supreme Court. The president was tweeting from Hanoi, Vietnam — where he is attending a summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

As the hearing began Wednesday, North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows interrupted to say Cohen’s prepared testimony was not received by the committee 24 hours in advance in violation of committee rules, calling for a postponement of the hearing.

“It was an intentional effort by this witness and his advisers to once again show his disdain for this body,” Meadows said. Cummings admitted the committee received the testimony “late last night.” The Democratic-controlled committee voted to reject the GOP call to postpone.

Cohen, under questioning from Republicans, admitted he spoke with Democratic leaders in Congress, including Cummings and Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff, before his testimony.

As for his future, Cohen would not rule out making money on a book or movie deal or as a paid television commentator. He said he would not rule out running for office in New York one day.

Wednesday’s hearing is one of three congressional hearings this week where Cohen is expected to testify against his former boss. He testified Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and on Thursday, Cohen appears before the House Intelligence Committee – though both are behind closed doors.

Trump’s presidential campaign blasted Cohen in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“Michael Cohen is a felon, a disbarred lawyer, and a convicted perjurer, who lied to both Congress and the Special Counsel in a ‘deliberate and premeditated’ fashion according to the special counsel’s office,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said. “Now he offers what he says is evidence, but the only support for that is his own testimony, which has proven before to be worthless.”

Cohen was originally scheduled to report to jail on March 6 to begin serving a three-year sentence after he pleaded guilty to campaign finance and other violations last year. He is now scheduled to report to jail May 6.

In December, Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations, tax evasion and lying to Congress. He agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of a deal. The charges against Cohen arose from two separate investigations – one by federal prosecutors in New York, and the other by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

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Fox News’ Lillian LeCroy, Gregg Re and The Associated Press contributed to the contents of this report.

 

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NAPOLITANO: Proceed with caution when it comes to believing Cohen

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen’s upcoming testimony before key House committees shouldn’t be believed unless he’s able to substantiate his claims, Judge Andrew Napolitano said Tuesday.

“This dynamite piece that The Wall Street Journal says he is going to testify that President Trump committed crimes while in office,” Fox News’ judicial analyst told “Fox and Friends” on Tuesday Morning. “The source wouldn’t say exactly what these alleged crimes are, but no prosecutor would put Michael Cohen on the stand and assert that he is credible without a mountain of corroborating evidence to support him.”

That evidence will likely not appear, said Napolitano, citing the fact that Cohen will not be under oath

This is not a legal hearing,” said Napolitano. “This is not a courtroom where you put a witness on the stand and corroborate them. This is a political gathering. They don’t care about corroboration.”

Cohen, who is expected to make some of Trump’s private financial statements public and worked for Trump for more than 10 years, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday and on Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee.

Cohen’s planned testimony comes more than 13 months after The Wall Street Journal reported that he paid $130,000 in “hush money” to former adult-film star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence after an alleged sexual encounter with Donald Trump prior to his presidency.

Cohen claims he made the payment to Daniels under the direct orders of then-presidential candidate Trump.

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TRUMP STRIKES BACK: President blasts ‘horse face’ Stormy Daniels and ‘third rate’ lawyer after federal judge dismisses lawsuit

WASHINGTON— President Donald Trump on Tuesday took to Twitter to lash out at former porn star Stormy Daniels, who had sued the president for defamation of character, only to have her suit dismissed by a federal judge based on “lack of merit”.

“Federal Judge throws out Stormy Daniel’s lawsuit versus Trump. Trump is entitled to full legal fees @FoxNews,” the president tweeted. “Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the Great State of Texas. She will confirm the letter she signed! She knows nothing about me, a total con!”

Daniels brought the suit in federal court after Trump pointed out that a sketch she released of a man who allegedly threatened her to stay silent about her reported one-time fling with Trump looked a lot like her ex-husband.

In addition to dismissing her suit against the president, the judge hearing the case also ordered Daniels to pay Trump’s attorneys fees.

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BREAKING: US Treasury Department opens investigation into Stormy Daniels lawyer over bank records leak

Washington, D.C. (The Hill) — The Treasury Department’s inspector general is investigating how Stormy Daniels’s lawyer Michael Avenatti obtained confidential banking records concerning a company controlled by President Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

The inspector general’s counsel, Rich Delmar, said that the office is looking into allegations that Suspicious Activity Reports filed about Cohen’s banking transactions were “improperly disseminated,” according to the Post.

Avenatti on Tuesday went public with detailed claims about Cohen’s banking history, including allegations that he received $500,000 from a company controlled by a Russian oligarch in the months following the 2016 presidential election.

The payment was, according to Avenatti, deposited in an account for a company that was also used to pay Daniels $130,000 as part of her non-disclosure agreement weeks before the 2016 vote.

Avenatti also revealed that AT&T, the Swiss drug company Novartis, and aircraft manufacturer Korea Aerospace Industries — all of which had business considerations with the federal government — had made payments to Cohen. The companies later confirmed the payments, which are under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Avenatti refused to reveal his source for this information and said investigators should reveal the Suspicious Activity Reports filed on Cohen’s account.

Such reports are filed if an unusual transaction of over $10,000 is made, and experts told the Post that Avenatti’s information could have come from a report filed by Cohen’s bank.

Banks often file such reports to detect for money laundering or other illegal behavior.

Cohen’s bank, First Republic, declined the Post’s request for comment.

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‘MURDER-SUICIDE’: Former prosecutor calls out Giuliani’s legal strategy in Trump defense

Washington, D.C. (The Hill) — Former prosecutor Solomon Wisenberg compared former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s legal strategy to a murder-suicide on Thursday after Giuliani said in an interview that President Trump reimbursed his attorney Michael Cohen the $130,000 paid to adult-film star Stormy Daniels to stay silent about their alleged affair.

“I liken it to a murder-suicide,” Wisenberg told CNN’s Dana Bash. “He metaphorically murdered the president, and committed suicide with respect to his own reputation.”

“It was an incredibly embarrassing interview. Look, when you’re representing anybody, much less the president of the United States, you to know that when you go on television, and you make statements on his behalf, that’s admissible in court. That’s an admission by an agent if President Trump ever went into court,” he said.
Giuliani, who recently became apart of Trump’s legal team, contradicted Trump, who previously told reporters that he was not aware of the payment.

“It’s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation. They funneled through a law firm and the president repaid it,” Giuliani told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday.

“He didn’t know about the specifics of it as far as I know, but he did know about the general arrangement, that Michael would take care of things like this,” he said.

Trump defended the payment in a series of tweets on Thursday.

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THE STORM RAGES ON: Trump defends Cohen reimbursement of Stormy Daniels payment; Says it was meant to stop ‘false claims’

Washington, D.C. (Fox News) — President Trump, in his first statements since lawyer Rudy Giuliani revealed overnight that the president reimbursed attorney Michael Cohen for a hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, said the money was meant to stop “false” allegations and stressed campaign funds played no role.

The president put out a three-part tweet about the $130,000 Cohen paid to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, to stay quiet in the weeks before the 2016 election about accusations of an affair.

“Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA,” Trump tweeted early Thursday.

“These agreements are very common among celebrities and people of wealth. In this case it is in full force and effect and will be used in Arbitration for damages against Ms. Clifford (Daniels). The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair,” Trump added.

Trump continued: “…despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair. Prior to its violation by Ms. Clifford and her attorney, this was a private agreement. Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll [sic] in this transaction.”

The president was referring to a letter written and signed by Daniels in January, stating “with complete clarity” that allegations of an affair with Trump were “absolutely false.” Daniels also wrote, at the time, that rumors that she received “hush money” from Trump were “completely false.”

Trump, however, also said last month that he didn’t know about the $130,000 payment.

But Giuliani revealed Wednesday night on Fox News’ “Hannity” that Trump indeed made the reimbursement.

Giuliani, though, clarified Thursday on “Fox & Friends” that Trump “didn’t know the details of this until we knew the details of this” a couple weeks ago. He has said Trump thought it was to cover unspecified “expenses.”

Giuliani stressed that this was a personal payment and disputed any suggestion that it was an unreported campaign contribution.

“[Cohen] was trying to help the family. … I think he was just being a good lawyer,” he said.

“That money was not campaign money,” Giuliani also said on “Hannity.” “It’s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation.”

Giuliani, who recently joined Trump’s legal team, added that the money was “funneled” through a “law firm and the president repaid it.”

Whether that argument holds up remains to be seen. A candidate is allowed to contribute an unlimited amount to his or her campaign. However, contributions are supposed to be officially reported.

If the payments were wholly personal, said Richard L. Hasen, an expert in election law at the University of California, Irvine, there would be no campaign finance violations.

But Giuliani’s argument that the payment was unrelated to the campaign could well be challenged. If it’s considered a campaign-related expense, the onus may have been on the president or his campaign to report it as a loan.

“The greatest significance is that it implicates the president, directly,” Hasen told the Associated Press.

Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Thursday morning that if it’s “true” that Trump reimbursed Cohen, it’s a “crime” with “serious consequences.”

Cohen previously has said the money he paid to Daniels came out of his own pocket. Both Trump’s and Giuliani’s statements now seem to contradict Cohen’s account.

Cohen is currently under criminal investigation as part of a grand jury probe looking into his personal business dealings.

___________

Fox News’ Samuel Chamberlain and Paulina Dedaj and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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STORM FRONT: Trump attorney, Stormy Daniels square off in court over FBI raid

New York, NY. — Adult film star Stormy Daniels will be present during a Monday court hearing for President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen in which Cohen is expected to challenge evidence obtained during an April 9 raid of his Manhattan office by FBI officials, says Daniels’ attorney.

“I’m going to be there at 2. I can announce that we got comfortable with a security plan last night for my client, she’s going to attend at 2 on Monday,” Michael Avenatti told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal attorney, is under criminal investigation as part of a grand jury probe into his personal conduct and business dealings.

Attorneys for Cohen have criticized last week’s raid by FBI officials of Cohen’s office and personal residence as “unprecedented” claiming the items seized by federal agents “have nothing to do with the probable cause” on which the warrant was granted.

In a letter penned to federal Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York on Monday, Cohen’s attorneys, Stephen Ryan and Todd Harrison, argue the items seized by the feds are protected by attorney-client privilege.

“[T]here is a growing public debate about whether criminal and congressional investigations by the government are being undertaken impartially, free of any political bias or partisan motivation. It is in this climate that the Government executed an unprecedented search warrant—instead of using its less onerous subpoena power—upon the personal attorney of the President of the United States,” Cohen’s lawyers wrote.

“In the process, the Government seized more than a dozen electronic devices and other items that include documents and data regarding topics and issues that have nothing to do with the probable cause upon which the search warrant was granted in the first place.”

In response, U.S. Attorney Robert S. Khuzami of USAO-SDNY, says all items obtained during the course of the raid were justified and approved by a federal magistrate judge.

“These searches were carried out as part of an ongoing grand jury investigation being conducted by the USAO-SDNY and the FBI,” Khuzami’s motion argues, adding the judge “had found probable cause to believe that the premises and devices searched contained evidence, fruits, and instrumentalities of conduct for which Cohen is under criminal investigation.”

According to a New York Times report, some of the documents seized by FBI agents related to a $130,000 payment Cohen allegedly paid Daniels as part of a confidentiality agreement she signed regarding an alleged affair with Donald Trump.

“This is completely unprecedented. Prior to the execution of warrants at issue, prosecutors from the Southern District of New York had already intercepted emails from the president’s personal lawyer,” Cohen’s lawyers wrote. “They apparently executed the search warrants at issue here only after they searched the private emails between the President of the United States and his personal lawyer and realized that ‘zero emails were exchanged with President Trump’.”

When asked, Avenatti denied that Daniels’ presence at the hearing was intended to provoke Cohen, but added: “I think Monday afternoon could prove to be very interesting.”

“(Daniels’s presence is) intended to send the message that this is a very, very serious matter for her and she wants to make sure that the American people know that she’s behind efforts to bring to light as much information and documents as possible,” said Avenatti. “She also wants to ensure that she is heard and that she’s represented at the hearing.”

 

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