Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, who pleaded guilty in August to breaking campaign finance laws, made a surprise appearance in a Manhattan courtroom on Thursday morning to plead guilty to a new criminal charge, the latest turn in the special counsel’s investigation of Mr. Trump and his inner circle.
At the court hearing, Mr. Cohen admitted to making false statements to Congress about his efforts to build a Trump Tower deal in Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign. That real estate deal has been a focus of the special counsel investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russian operatives.
In written testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mr. Cohen played down the extent of his contact with the Kremlin about the potential project and made other false statements about the negotiations, which never led to a final deal.
Mr. Cohen’s new guilty plea comes at a particularly perilous time for Mr. Trump, whose presidency has been threatened by Mr. Cohen’s statements to investigators. In recent days, the president and his lawyers have increased their attacks on the Justice Department and the special counsel’s office.
The expected new guilty plea in Federal District Court marks the first time the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has charged Mr. Cohen. In exchange for pleading guilty and continuing to cooperate with Mr. Mueller, he may hope to receive a lighter sentence than he otherwise would.
The move comes just two weeks before Mr. Cohen, 52, is scheduled to be sentenced for his earlier guilty plea. That case, which also included bank and tax crimes, was brought by federal prosecutors in Manhattan.
This week, Mr. Mueller accused Mr. Trump’s onetime campaign manager, Paul Manafort, of repeatedly lying to investigators in breach of a plea agreement. And Mr. Trump’s lawyers recently submitted his written responses to questions from Mr. Mueller, who the president accused on Tuesday of operating a “Phony Witch Hunt.”
It was just three months ago that Mr. Cohen, pleading guilty for the first time, stood up in a different Manhattan courtroom and accused Mr. Trump of directing hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign to conceal potential sex scandals. Those payments formed the basis of the campaign finance charges against Mr. Cohen.
Although Mr. Cohen’s first plea agreement did not include a formal cooperation deal, he had sat for repeated interviews with Mr. Mueller’s investigators.
He also offered assistance to the office prosecuting him, the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, according to a person briefed on the matter. (Mr. Mueller’s investigators referred the investigation of Mr. Cohen to the Southern District earlier this year).
The Southern District said last month in a court filing that it was continuing to investigate “Michael Cohen and others.” While the filing did not identify other suspects, the prosecutors are expected to examine whether people in Mr. Trump’s circle were aware of Mr. Cohen’s criminal conduct.
In the Southern District case, Mr. Cohen already faced a potential prison sentence of about four to five years under the nonbinding federal sentencing guidelines, according to his plea agreement. It is unclear what additional time he could face with the new guilty plea.
During his plea hearing in August, Mr. Cohen admitted to making a $130,000 payment to an adult film actress, Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, to keep her quiet about an affair she said she had with Mr. Trump.
The payment amounted to an illegal contribution to Mr. Trump’s campaign, prosecutors argued, since her silence bolstered his election hopes and campaign finance law prohibits individuals from donating more than $2,700 to a presidential candidate.
Mr. Cohen also pleaded guilty to arranging what amounted to an illegal corporate campaign donation when he helped to silence a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal. At Mr. Cohen’s urging, the tabloid publisher American Media Inc. bought the rights to Ms. McDougal’s story of an affair with Mr. Trump but did not publish a story.
“I participated in this conduct, which on my part took place in Manhattan, for the principal purpose of influencing the election,” Mr. Cohen said in court in August when he entered his plea.
He said that the payments to the women were made “in coordination with, and at the direction of, a candidate for federal office” — a reference to President Trump.