Michael Cohen thought he could salvage his reputation and win leniency in court by helping prosecutors on the special counsel’s team investigating Russian election interference. But he withheld information about his business and other matters from Manhattan federal prosecutors, drawing a sharp rebuke and a recommendation of limited leniency.
Cohen’s sharp language critical of the president -- saying he hid Donald Trump’s “dirty deeds” -- came as dual investigations continue in Washington and New York into Russian election interference and campaign finance violations. Although there were no new revelations, even Cohen’s lawyer said the inquiries could continue for years.
Cohen evaded federal income taxes, participated in a scheme to pay hush money to two women on Trump’s behalf before the 2016 presidential election, and lied to banks and Congress. Cohen pleaded guilty without a cooperation deal with prosecutors.
That change of heart came too late to win the judge’s sympathy. “The irony is today is the day I get my freedom back,” said Cohen, who was audibly emotional. “I have been leading a personal and mental incarceration ever since the fateful day that I accepted the offer to work for a famous real estate mogul whose business acumen I greatly admired.”
While saying he accepted full responsibility, he also expounded on his complex relationship with President Trump. “It was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds,” he said.
He will present himself on March 6 to begin his prison sentence for nine felonies. He will also forfeit $500,000, pay a restitution of $1.4 million and fines totaling $100,000. As the penalties were read out, Cohen shut his eyes, shook his head and put his left hand to his face and pinched his brow. His daughter and son, who accompanied him to the hearing, sobbed.
Cohen, who says he agreed to pay for the women’s silence at Trump’s direction, drew attacks from his onetime boss earlier this year when he started providing evidence to Special Counsel Robert Mueller and other investigators. Prosecutors in Manhattan chided him for not giving them the information they needed. On Wednesday, Cohen’s lawyer said that Cohen was now ready to do that for inquiries that could go on for years.
The Manhattan prosecutors seemed unmoved by the offer. In their memo to the court last week asking for Cohen’s imprisonment, they said that Cohen’s promise to cooperate further was of little value to them, particularly since he’d be under no obligation to do so after sentencing.
In ordering his sentence, the Manhattan judge faulted him for not coming clean completely to prosecutors and said that Cohen, as a lawyer, should have known better.
Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to a “veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct” motivated by “personal greed and ambition,” U.S. District Judge William Pauley said, adding that the crimes required “specific deterrence.”
“While Mr. Cohen was taking steps to mitigate his criminal conduct by pleading guilty and volunteering useful information to prosecutors, that does not wipe the slate clean,” Pauley said.
It could have gone differently for Cohen. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is heading into his own sentencing hearing next week with a recommendation of little or no prison time after cooperating fully, according to Mueller.
Before Cohen received his sentence on Wednesday, his lawyers portrayed him as an important witness who bucked the power of the presidency to expose public wrongdoing.
“He came forward to offer evidence against the most powerful person in our country. He did so not knowing what the result would be, not knowing how the politics would play out and not even knowing that the special counsel’s office would survive,” said Cohen lawyer Guy Petrillo.
Cohen entered courtroom accompanied by his family and was embraced and kissed by several supporters. He sat at the defense table with Petrillo, looking haggard. Seated behind him were FBI agents who worked on his case.
His face reddened in court as Petrillo described the attacks Cohen has suffered from Trump and his supporters.