Trump vortex: Legal nightmare worsens for President Trump

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Michael Cohen, center, the former lawyer for President Donald Trump, exits federal court after his sentencing in Manhattan, on December 12, 2018.

Cohen, who spent years as one of Trump's right-hand men, pleaded guilty to federal crimes including making illegal payments to two women who say they had sexual encounters with Trump, in order to keep them quiet about the alleged affairs.

In a court filing last week, the prosecutors left no doubt that they believe Cohen arranged the hush-money payments at Trump's direction, saying the manoeuvr was part of an effort to "influence the election from the shadows".

Cohen, who once said he would "take a bullet for Trump", was sentenced in NY to three years in prison for orchestrating the payments in violation of campaign finance laws before the 2016 US presidential election.

The defense team said Cohen's tax crimes were unsophisticated, and his campaign violations and lies to lawmakers were motivated by overenthusiasm for Trump, rather than any nefarious intent.

"The fact that he was in the room will increase his culpability and will make his lawyers very nervous", said Jessica Levinson, a professor of election law and governance issues at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. It is called "advice of counsel", and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made.

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Cohen pleaded guilty in August to charges including tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations in a case brought by federal prosecutors in NY. In the agreement, AMI said it would cooperate with prosecutors and admitted it paid $US150,000 ($207,000) to McDougal before the 2016 election to silence her allegations of an affair with Trump.

Cohen's cooperation with Mueller's investigation has prompted speculation that he may have implicated President Trump in criminal behavior.

For years, Michael Cohen described himself as being staunchly loyal to President Trump, going as far as saying that he would "take a bullet" for him. "Michael Cohen was sentenced today, President Trump is next".

Another message from the fate of the two Trump associates is that Mr Trump's business dealings, not Russian election meddling, could present a greater legal threat to the president. Trump's new attorney Rudy Giuliani had said earlier that Cohen was not representing the United States president after the Federal Bureau of Investigation raids on his home and office.

Late Thursday evening, news has just broken on NBC that Donald Trump was in the room when the hush money deal was sealed.

Last month, Cohen acknowledged that he had lied to Congress about his contacts with Russian Federation during the election campaign about building a Trump Tower in Moscow and the extent of Trump's own involvement in the negotiations.

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Trump lashed out at Cohen over the tapes, claiming they were illegal.

Donald Trump has thrown his support behind a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that could become a rare legislative win for him, but will also help out former Trump lawyer and current Trump-federal-crime-implicator Michael Cohen. But according to The New York Times, Trump treated Cohen "poorly, with gratuitous insults, dismissive statements and, at least twice, threats of being fired".

In the Manhattan courtroom, Cohen told U.S. District Judge William Pauley that "blind loyalty" led him to cover up for Trump's "dirty deeds". Prosecutors say he never fully co-operated.

Prosecutors have said the payments violated campaign finance laws.

Michael Avenatti, Daniels' lawyer, attended the sentencing and told reporters outside the courthouse, "Michael Cohen is neither a hero nor a patriot".

Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor in NY, said it is significant that prosecutors have explicitly said Mr. Trump ordered the payoffs and publicized AMI's admission that they were to influence the election.

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