Judge Gives Ex-Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen 3 Years in Prison

NEW YORK (AP) -
michael cohen sentencing
Michael Cohen exits the federal courthouse in Manhattan after his sentencing, Wednesday. (Reuters/Jeenah Moon)

Michael Cohen, who as President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer once vowed he would “take a bullet” for his boss, was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for an array of crimes that included arranging the payment of hush money that he says was done at the direction of Trump.

The sentence was in line with what federal prosecutors asked for. Sentencing guidelines called for around four to five years behind bars, and prosecutors asked in court papers that Cohen be given only a slight break. He is ordered to surrender March 6.

Cohen, standing alone at the defense table, shook his head slightly and closed his eyes briefly as the sentence was announced by the judge.

U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III said Cohen deserved modest credit for his decision over the summer to admit guilt and cooperate in a federal investigation of efforts by Russians to influence the presidential election.

Cohen told the judge just before he was sentenced that loyalty to Trump led him astray.

“It was my blind loyalty to this man that led me to take a path of darkness instead of light,” he said. “I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.”

Cohen’s lawyers had argued for leniency, saying he decided to cooperate with investigators rather than hold out for a possible pardon.

“He came forward to offer evidence against the most powerful person in our country,” Cohen’s lawyer, Guy Petrillo, told the judge during the hearing.

Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty in August to evading $1.4 million in taxes related to his personal businesses. In the part of the case with greater political repercussions, he also admitted breaking campaign finance laws in arranging payments in the waning days of the 2016 election to two people with possibly damaging information on Trump.

Cohen became the first — and so far, only — member of Trump’s circle during two years of investigations to go into open court and implicate the president in a crime, though whether a president can be prosecuted is a matter of legal dispute.

Last month, Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings in Russia. He admitted hiding the fact that he was negotiating a proposal to build a Trump skyscraper in Moscow well into the presidential campaign. He said he lied out of devotion to Trump, who had insisted during the campaign that he had no business ties whatsoever to Russia.

At the sentencing hearing, Jeannie Rhee, a prosecutor in the office Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating potential interference by Russia in the U.S. election, said Cohen has “sought to tell us the truth and that is of the utmost value to us.”

“He has provided consistent and credible information about core Russia-related issues under investigation,” she said.

Cohen has had at least seven meetings with Mueller’s team, which said in court papers that Cohen provided “relevant and useful” information about attempts by Russian figures to influence Trump’s campaign.

It remains to be seen how much damage Cohen’s cooperation will do to Trump. Legal experts said Cohen could get his sentence reduced if he strikes a deal with prosecutors to tell them more.

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.