Michael Cohen sentencing: Ex-Trump lawyer gets prison time despite cooperation with feds

Cohen: I covered up Trump's 'dirty deeds'

Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

NEW YORK – Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, was sentenced to prison time on Wednesday morning for crimes including making illegal hush-money payments.

Sentencing guidelines were:

  • For the charges from New York prosecutors: Cohen's guideline range is 51 to 63 months in prison
  • For the special counsel charges: The guideline range is zero to six months of imprisonment

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison. 

Cohen addressed the court during his sentencing hearing, saying he "takes full responsibility" for his actions. 

"I take full responsibility for each act that I pleaded guilty to ...." including those implicating the "President of the United States of America."

"Today is the day that I am getting my freedom back." ... "I have been living in a personal and mental incarceration ever since the day that I accepted the offer to work for a real estate mogul whose business acumen that I deeply admired."

"Recently the president tweeted a statement calling me weak and it was correct but for a much different reason than he was implying. It was because time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds," Cohen told the court. 

In court Wednesday morning, Cohen's attorney, Guy Petrillo, offered a sweeping case for leniency, comparing the significance of Cohen's actions and the work of the special counsel to the Watergate investigation.

"The cooperation here should be viewed against a non-standard framework," Petrillo said. The special counsel's office "investigation is of utmost national significance, no less than seen 40 years ago in Watergate."

Petrillo described the stakes of Cohen's cooperation with Mueller to the courtroom, saying that when Cohen came forward to help the special counsel, "he knew the President might shut down the investigation."

"He came forward to offer evidence against the most powerful person in our country," Petrillo said.

 A prosecutor with special counsel Robert Mueller's office says President Donald Trump's ex-lawyer Michael Cohen "has provided consistent and credible information about core Russia-related issues under investigation."

Jeannie Rhee didn't elaborate on that information as she spoke Wednesday at Cohen's sentencing. But she did say that Cohen "has sought to tell us the truth, and that is of the utmost value to us."

Previous background on Cohen's case:

Cohen pleaded guilty to misleading Congress about his work on a proposal to build a Trump skyscraper in Moscow, hiding the fact that he continued to speak with Russians about the proposal well into the presidential campaign.

Cohen also pleaded guilty in August to breaking campaign finance laws by helping orchestrate payments to silence former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who said they had sexual encounters with Trump while he was married.

Daniels' outspoken lawyer, Michael Avenatti, also turned up for Cohen's sentencing. Avenatti represented Daniels in a legal dispute with Cohen, in which she sought to be released from an agreement prohibiting her from talking about the alleged affair. Avenatti has bashed Cohen for months on cable television, saying Trump's ex-lawyer deserves to go to prison.

Meanwhile, Cohen looked relaxed as he sat in court awaiting the proceeding, occasionally looking at papers on the table in front of him.

For weeks, Cohen's legal strategy appeared to revolve around persuading the court that he is a reformed man who abandoned longtime friendships and gave up his livelihood when he decided to cut ties with the president and speak with federal investigators. Cohen's lawyers have said in court filings that their client could have stayed on the president's side and angled himself for a presidential pardon.

New York prosecutors have urged a judge to sentence Cohen to a substantial prison term, saying he'd failed to fully cooperate and overstated his helpfulness.

They've asked for only a slight reduction to his sentence based on his work with the office of special counsel Robert Mueller and prosecutors looking into the campaign finance violations in New York.

A probation-only sentence, they said, is unbefitting of "a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy."

"While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows. He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs" with Trump, prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors said Cohen orchestrated payments to McDougal and Daniels at Trump's direction.

Trump, who insists the affairs never happened, said Monday in a tweet that the payments to the women were "a simple private transaction," not a campaign contribution. And if it was campaign contribution, the president said, Cohen is the one who should be held responsible.

"Lawyer's liability if he made a mistake, not me," Trump wrote, adding, "Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced. WITCH HUNT!"

A sentence of hard time would leave Cohen with little to show for his decision to plead guilty, though experts said Wednesday's hearing might not be the last word on his punishment.

Cohen could have his sentence revisited if he strikes a deal with prosecutors in which he provides additional cooperation within a year of his sentence, said Michael J. Stern, a former federal prosecutor in Detroit and Los Angeles.

"Few things spark a defendant's renewed interest in cooperating faster than trading in a pair of custom Italian trousers for an off-the-rack orange jump suit," he said.

Annemarie McAvoy, a former federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, said prosecutors appear to be angry at Cohen for limiting his cooperation.

"It could be a tactic to try to break him like they've tried to do with (Paul) Manafort," McAvoy said, referring to Trump's former campaign chairman. "It kind of shows they're putting the screws to him. If they're not mad at him, he didn't give them what they wanted."

Cohen's transition from Trump's fixer-in-chief to felon has been head-spinning.

He once told an interviewer he would "take a bullet" for Trump. But facing prosecution for evading $1.4 million in taxes, Cohen pleaded guilty in August, pledged to cooperate with Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election and changed his party registration from Republican to Democrat.

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