Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer for US President Donald Trump, was sentenced to a total of three years in prison on Wednesday for his role in making illegal hush-money payments to women to help Trump’s 2016 election campaign and lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia.
US District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan sentenced Cohen to three years for the payments, which violated campaign finance law, and to two months for the false statements to Congress. The two terms will run concurrently.
Judge Pauley said Cohen’s cooperation with prosecutors “does not wipe the slate clean” of his crimes. He also said that Cohen “appears to have lost his moral compass” and that lawyer “should have known better”.
Cohen pleaded guilty in August to charges by federal prosecutors in New York that, just before the election, he paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 and helped arrange a $150,000 payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal so the women would keep quiet about their past relationships with President Donald Trump, who is married. Trump denies having the affairs.
Cohen also admitted to unrelated charges of tax evasion and making false statements to banks.
Prosecutors say the hush money payments violated campaign finance laws and they concurred with Cohen’s assertion that the payments were directed by Trump, implicating Trump in a possible campaign finance law violation.
In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Trump denied the payments were campaign contributions. “If it were, it’s only civil, and even if it’s only civil, there was no violation based on what we did,” he said.
Federal law requires that the contribution of “anything of value” to a campaign must be disclosed and that an individual donation cannot exceed $2,700.
Cohen also pleaded guilty to a separate charge of lying to Congress brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
The sentencing caps the stunning about-face of a lawyer who once said he would “take a bullet” for Trump but has now directly implicated the president in criminal conduct.
Trump has denied any collusion with Russia and has accused Mueller’s team of pressuring his former aides to lie about him, his campaign and his business dealings. Russia has denied US allegations of interfering in the election to help Trump.
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has argued the hush payments cannot be considered campaign finance violations because they were made to protect Trump’s reputation and would have been made even if he had not been a presidential candidate.
Although Cohen asked in a November 30 court filing to be given no prison time based on his assistance in the investigation, prosecutors asked on Friday for Cohen to be given a “substantial term of imprisonment” for his crimes, with only a “modest” reduction to the roughly four to five-year term they say he faces under sentencing guidelines.
They said Cohen declined to sign a formal cooperation agreement, which would have required him to be fully debriefed about his entire criminal history and his knowledge of others’ crimes. His refusal to cooperate fully, they said, limited his credibility as a witness.
In his guilty plea to Mueller’s charge, Cohen admitted he lied to Congress about the timeline for discussions of plans for real estate businessman Trump’s skyscraper in Moscow.
He said in written testimony to two committees that the talks ended in January 2016, before the first contests to select the Republican presidential candidate, when they actually continued until June 2016, after Trump clinched the Republican nomination.
Mueller’s sentencing recommendation was more generous, saying Cohen had provided valuable information about contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia. He recommended any sentence for lying to Congress be served concurrently with Cohen’s sentence on the charges in New York.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, an adviser to Cohen said the lawyer will “state publicly all he knows” about Trump after Mueller completes his investigation.
Lanny Davis said Cohen “continues to tell the truth about Donald Trump’s misconduct over the years”.
Davis, who was previously a lawyer for Cohen, said he will assist the former political fixer in testifying before any Congressional committee “interested in the search for truth and the difference between facts and lies”.
Cohen has been ordered to turn himself in to begin his prison sentence on March 6.