Michael Cohen once believed he would lead Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
When that didn’t come to pass, he told friends he might be White House chief of staff. That didn’t happen either, but still he swore he’d “take a bullet” for Trump. In the end, the President’s longtime personal lawyer stood before a federal judge in a New York City courthouse on Aug. 21 and swore to something else entirely: that he had engaged in a crime coordinated by the man who now sits in the Oval Office.
Even in a presidency punctuated by surreal moments, it was a stunning scene. Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felony counts, including arranging payments during the 2016 campaign to suppress two women’s accounts of alleged extramarital affairs with Trump. “I participated in this conduct,” Cohen avowed, “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump himself. With that extraordinary statement, he implicated the President of the United States in a federal crime–to be violating campaign-finance laws–the “principal purpose,” of which he said, was to influence an election that Trump won by only 78,000 votes in three states.