UPDATE: Michael Cohen gets 3 years for cases involving Stormy Daniels, lying to Congress
UPDATE: An emotional Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer and fixer, was sentenced Wednesday to 3 years after pleading guilty to nine federal charges stemming from his failure to report millions of dollars in income making secret payments to women who claimed they had affairs with Trump.
One of the charges Cohen pleaded guilty to included a separate charge, stemming from Robert Mueller's probe into Tump's potential collusion with Russia, that he lied to Congress about his dealings with a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow.
Cohen, 52, appeared in the Manhattan federal courtroom Wednesday morning with his wife and daughter.
When standing before Judge William Pauley, Cohen said blind loyalty to Trump led him to "choose darkness over light." He said he will work to prove history wrong and that he is not the villain in Trump's this investigation.
He appeared to tear up as he apologized to his family and to the people of the United States.
“I am truly sorry and I promise I will be better," he said.
Cohen's lawyers had previously argued against a prison sentence, citing his cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose office is investigating possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 presidential election.
Mueller’s office said last week it took no position on Cohen’s sentence but suggested it run concurrently with the sentence handed down in the New York case. A prosecutor on Mueller's team told the judge Cohen was helpful but declined to offer further details because the investigation is ongoing.
In a sentencing memo filed by Mueller’s office, they said the attorney, 52, provided federal investigators with "relevant and useful" information about his contacts with people connected to Trump and the White House.
Mueller's office also described how Cohen gave them detailed information on efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow at the height of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and told them about Russian nationals who tried to communicate with the president as he was campaigning.
Cohen pleaded guilty on Nov. 29 to a charge that he lied to Congress in an attempt to cover up efforts to build the Moscow tower.
His legal troubles also include a hush-payment Cohen made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the amount of $130,000 and another to porn actress Karen McDougal for more than $25,000. Both said they had affairs with Trump before his election, something the White House denies.
Despite Cohen’s cooperation with Mueller’s investigation, federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York argued that he did not confess everything he knew.
In a separate sentencing memo on the eight charges he pleaded guilty to in August, prosecutors said Cohen's assistance didn't outweigh his "extensive" criminal conduct and pushed for a sentence of 51 to 63 months in jail, the usual federal sentence for his crimes. The sentencing guidelines also called for a term of up to six months in prison for the charge stemming from the Mueller probe.
"After cheating the IRS for years, lying to banks and to Congress, and seeking to criminally influence the Presidential election, Cohen's decision to plead guilty — rather than seek a pardon for his manifold crimes — does not make him a hero," prosecutors said.
Cohen's lawyer, Guy Petrillo, told the judge on Wednesday that he is "a very good man" who came forward with evidence against the most powerful man in the United States without knowing what the result would be and that others should take courage from this and his cooperation and that it stands in contrast to others who did not cooperate.
The charges Cohen pleaded guilty to:
Charges brought by the Southern District:
- Count 1-5: Evasion of assessment of income tax liability for pleading guilty to failing to report more than $4 million in income from 2012 through 2016.
- Counts 6: False statements to a bank for Cohen pleading guilty to understating debt from his taxi medallion business in the process of applying for a home equity line of credit (HELOC) with a bank.
- Count 7: Causing an unlawful corporation contribution for when he pleaded guilty to orchestrating a payment made by American Media to Karen McDougal for her “limited life story”, an allegation that she had an affair with Donald Trump.
- Count 8: Excessive campaign contribution for when he pleaded guilty to making an excessive political contribution when he paid adult film actress Stephanie Clifford aka Stormy Daniels $130,000 for her story and silence about Clifford’s alleged affair with Donald Trump.
Charge brought by Robert Mueller
- Count 1: False statements to Congress for when Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress on August 28, 2017 when he sent a two-page letter to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) as well as during testimony before Congress.
PREVIOUS STORY: By JIM MUSTIAN and LARRY NEUMEISTER, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) - Michael Cohen, a lawyer who made his career protecting President Donald Trump, is set to learn Wednesday whether his decision to cooperate with federal investigators will lessen his punishment for crimes including making illegal hush-money payments to two women during the 2016 campaign - a scandal that could damage Trump's presidency.
Cohen said nothing to reporters as he arrived at court for his sentencing, where U.S. District Judge William Pauley III is set to decide whether the attorney will get leniency or years in prison for campaign finance violations, tax evasion and lying to Congress about the president's past business dealings in Russia.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Cohen, 52, stands to get about four years in prison, but his lawyers have argued for leniency.
Some of Cohen's crimes, they said, were motivated by overenthusiasm for Trump, rather than any nefarious intent.
He has 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.
Judge Pauley, who was appointed to the federal bench by former President Bill Clinton, may allow Cohen to begin serving any prison term he receives at a later date. But legal experts said Cohen could also be taken into custody immediately.
"If I were advising him, I'd encourage him to bring his toothbrush to court," said Stern.
Cohen's lawyers have asked for no prison time, saying he has suffered enough already.
"The greatest punishment Michael has endured in the criminal process has been the shame and anxiety he feels daily from having subjected his family to the fallout from his case," his attorneys wrote in a court filing last month. "The media glare and intrusions on all of them, including his children, the regular hate correspondence and written and oral threats, the fact that he will lose his law license, the termination of business relationships by banks and insurers and the loss of friendships, are but some of this fallout."
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