Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer, has become the first member of Trump’s inner circle to receive a significant prison sentence in connection with Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election.
U.S. District Judge William Pauley III sentenced Cohen to three years in federal prison for committing a “veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct.” Pauley has ordered Cohen to surrender on March 6. The judge also ordered Cohen to pay about $2 million in financial penalties.
Cohen had pleaded guilty to a host of federal crimes, including tax evasion and lying to Congress about his involvement on behalf of Trump regarding a potential Trump Tower in Moscow in 2016, after Trump had secured the Republican presidential nomination.
Cohen also pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations that involve hiding payouts to silence two two women — former Playboy model Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels — who claimed they had sexual encounters with Trump. The Justice Department said Trump directed Cohen to make the payment, the first time prosecutors linked the president to a federal crime.
“It was my blind loyalty to this man that led me to take a path of darkness instead of light," Cohen said of Trump. "I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.”
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American Media, Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, admitted it paid off a former Playboy playmate to prevent her story about having an affair with Trump from “influencing the election,” the Southern District of New York revealed Wednesday.
In a statement, federal prosecutors confirmed they had previously reached a non-prosecution agreement with AMI over the company’s $150,000 hush-money payout to McDougal ahead of the 2016 election to keep the allegations from becoming public.
“AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making that payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,” prosecutors said.
Lanny Davis, Cohen’s communications adviser, said Cohen would continue to tell the truth about Trump’s “misconduct” over the years.
“At the appropriate time, after Mr. Mueller completes his investigation and issues his final report, I look forward to assisting Michael to state publicly all he knows about Mr. Trump — and that includes any appropriate Congressional committee interested in the search for truth and the difference between facts and lies,” Davis said in a statement. “Mr. Trump’s repeated lies cannot contradict stubborn facts.”
Davis also expressed disappointment after Pauley handed down the three-year sentence.
“While Mr. Mueller gave Michael significant credit for cooperation on the core issues, it is unfortunate that SDNY prosecutors did not do the same," Davis said in a statement. "To me, their judgment showed a lack of appropriate proportionality.”
While Cohen was sentenced to three years, he had potentially faced more than five years behind bars.
Cohen told the court he took “full responsibility” for every act he pleaded guilty to, and attempted to explain his actions to Pauley.
“Recently the president tweeted a statement calling me weak and it was correct but for a much different reason than he was implying," Cohen said. “It was my blind loyalty to this man that led me to take a path of darkness instead of light. I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.”
Trump told reporters last month that Cohen was a “weak person," speculating that his former lawyer was trying to get a “reduced sentence.”
Jeannie Rhee, a member of Mueller’s team, told Pauley that Cohen “told the truth” during his conversations with lawyers investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
“Mr. Cohen has sought to tell us the truth, and that is of utmost value to us,” Rhee said, according to reporters in the courtroom.
Assistant U.S. attorney Nicolas Roos, representing the Southern District of New York, said despite Cohen’s cooperation, his sentence should act as a deterrent and send a strong message
“Even powerful and privileged individuals cannot violate these laws with impunity," Roos said.
Guy Petrillo, Cohen’s attorney, said in his pre-sentencing statement to the court that Cohen’s sentence should be “substantially" shortened due to his cooperation with prosecutors, according to multiple reporters inside the courtroom.
“His action stands in profound contrast to the decision of some others not to cooperate and allegedly to double deal while pretending to cooperate,” Petrillo said, according to CNN’s Erica Orden. “This is a man whose first instinct is to help.”
Michael Avenatti, Daniels' outspoken attorney, is inside the courtroom to observe Cohen’s sentencing hearing.
“I’m here because but for my client we wouldn’t be here," Avenatti told VICE’s Gabrielle Bluestone.
Avenatti took to Twitter Wednesday morning to celebrate Cohen’s sentencing, claiming he planned to depose Trump’s former lawyer under oath about the $130,000 hush-money payout to Daniels “in order to fully disclose all of the facts to the American people.”
Cohen didn’t answer any questions as he arrived at the Manhattan federal courthouse ahead of his sentencing hearing with his wife, daughter, and son by his side.
Trump has repeatedly referred to Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” and told Reuters allegations of his campaign colluding with Russia was “peanut stuff.” He also slammed Cohen, saying his former attorney was “supposed to know what to do” and deserves a “full and complete sentence."
“Number one, it wasn’t a campaign contribution,” Trump said. “If it were, it’s only civil, and even if it’s only civil, there was no violation based on what we did. OK?”
Trump is scheduled to sit down with Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner on Thursday to discuss Cohen’s sentencing, which will air Thursday at 1 p.m. during Outnumbered Overtime. Former Fox News host Eric Bolling, who was fired last year after an investigation into claims of sexual harassment, wrote on Twitter he would interview Trump Wednesday. The interview will air Thursday evening across Sinclair affiliates.