Michael Cohen said he paid hush money at candidate Trump’s direction

Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, stated Tuesday that Trump directed him to pay women to stay silent about damaging stories during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The statement came as part of a plea deal that Cohen struck Tuesday with federal prosecutors in New York.

“I participated in the conduct for the purposes of influencing the election,” Cohen said in court.

Cohen said he will plead guilty to federal charges, which include campaign finance fraud from payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, according to The Associated Press.

Cohen is pleading guilty to charges of tax evasion, false statement to financial institution, willful cause of unlawful corporate contribution, and excessive campaign contribution.

Cohen agreed in his plea deal to not challenge any sentence from 46 to 63 months, according to the AP.

Both Daniels and McDougal have claimed they had affairs with Trump, which the president has denied.

A source close to Cohen said prior to the plea that Cohen agreed to a plea deal “to save millions of dollars, protect his family, and limit his exposure,” the source said.

Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York have been investigating Cohen for months over allegations of tax fraud, bank fraud and campaign finance violations stemming from hush payments he arranged to women, including Daniels prior to the 2016 presidential election. The probe was fueled in part by a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

Cohen’s apartment and Manhattan office, as well as a hotel room, were raided by federal investigators in April.

Mueller’s team has been pursuing legal action against Trump associates for months. The special counsel has already secured indictments against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has been on trial in Virginia, where a jury is deliberating on multiple counts of bank and tax fraud. Former campaign aides Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, as well as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, are among those who have pleaded guilty in the Mueller probe.

But Cohen’s plea brings the investigation squarely into the realm of the president’s private life and family.

On Sunday, The New York Times reported that federal authorities investigating whether Cohen committed bank and tax fraud were focusing on more than $20 million in loans secured by taxi businesses that he or his family owned. Those investigators are also examining whether Cohen violated campaign finance laws or other statutes by facilitating financial deals to buy the silence of women who claimed they had affairs with Trump, according to the report.

Cohen’s plea agreement marks the most formal break yet between the president and one of his most vocal, visible and forceful defenders.

For years, Cohen boasted that he would do anything to protect Trump, his reputation and his business empire, once saying he would take a bullet for Trump. The relationship began to fray after Trump’s surprise election, when the president decided not to offer his trusted attorney a position in his administration. Cohen had told acquaintances that he had expected such a position, perhaps even White House chief of staff or counsel.

Cohen’s loyalty was tested after FBI agents raided several locations and seized literally millions of documents and digital records that provided investigators with a roadmap of his — and Trump’s — myriad financial dealings. Some of those documents presumably relate to Trump Organization business deals and proposals, potentially including one that Cohen was trying to negotiate for a Trump property in Moscow during the early stages of the presidential campaign.

FBI agents also recovered numerous recordings of phone calls between Cohen and Trump that legal experts have said could be a gold mine for prosecutors.