New York Times
Michael D. Cohen, the former lawyer for President Trump, was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday morning in part for his role in a scandal that could threaten Mr. Trump’s presidency by implicating him in a scheme to buy the silence of two women who said they had affairs with him.
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The sentencing in federal court in Manhattan capped a startling fall for Mr. Cohen, 52, who had once hoped to work by Mr. Trump’s side in the White House but ended up a central figure in the inquiry into payments to a porn star and a former Playboy model before the 2016 election.
Judge William H. Pauley III said Mr. Cohen had committed a “smorgasbord” of crimes involving “deception” and motivated by “personal greed and ambition.”
“As a lawyer, Mr. Cohen should have known better,” the judge said.
Before he was sentenced, a solemn Mr. Cohen, standing at a lectern, sounded emotional but resolved as he told the judge he had been tormented by the anguish and embarrassment he had caused his family.
“I blame myself for the conduct which has brought me here today,” he said, “and it was my own weakness and a blind loyalty to this man” – a reference to Mr. Trump – “that led me to choose a path of darkness over light.”
Mr. Cohen said the president had been correct to call him “weak” recently, “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 rather than to listen to my own inner voice and my moral compass,” Mr. Cohen said.
Mr. Cohen then apologized to the public: “You deserve to know the truth and lying to you was unjust.”
Federal agents raided Mr. Cohen’s office and home in April, and he later turned on Mr. Trump, making the remarkable admission in court that Mr. Trump had directed him to arrange the payments.
Mr. Trump at first denied knowing anything about the payments, but then acknowledged that he had known about them. This week, he insisted that the payments were “a simple private transaction” — not election-related spending subject to campaign-finance laws.
He also maintained that even if the hush-money payments were campaign transactions in violation of election regulations, that should be considered only a civil offense, not a criminal one.
Since Mr. Cohen came under investigation, Mr. Trump has mocked him as a “weak person” who was giving information to prosecutors in an effort to obtain leniency when he is sentenced.
In fact, Mr. Cohen did not formally cooperate with prosecutors in the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan. In addition to the campaign-finance violations, the sentence covered Mr. Cohen’s guilty pleas to charges of tax evasion, bank fraud and making false statements to Congress.
He took a calculated gamble in pleading guilty to this litany of federal crimes without first entering into a cooperation agreement with the government. He offered to help prosecutors, but only on his terms, and there were some subjects he declined to discuss.
His lawyers argued he should not serve time in prison. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said he deserved around four years.
Judge Pauley had the final say. The judge said Mr. Cohen’s assistance to the special counsel’s office, though useful, had not “wiped the slate clean,” and a “significant term” of prison was justified.
In the end, the judge gave Mr. Cohen three years for the crimes he committed in New York and two months for lying to Congress, to be served at the same time. He was also asked to pay nearly $2 million in fines, forfeitures and restitution.
Mr. Cohen’s sentencing was unusual because it involved guilty pleas he made in two separate cases, one filed by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and a later one by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
In the case brought by Mr. Mueller’s office, Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the duration of negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, as well as about the extent of the involvement of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Cohen revealed that Mr. Trump was more involved in discussions over the potential deal during the election campaign than previously known.
The investigation of Mr. Cohen by the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan burst into public view in April when the F.B.I. raided his office, apartment and hotel room. Agents hauled off eight boxes of documents, about 30 cellphones, iPads and computers, even the contents of a shredder.
Four months later, on Aug. 21, Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, tax evasion and making false statements to a financial institution.
Mr. Cohen admitted in court that he had arranged the payments “for the principal purpose of influencing the election” for president in 2016.
The payments included $130,000 to the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, which the government considers an illegal donation to Mr. Trump’s campaign since it was intended to improve Mr. Trump’s election chances. (The legal limit for individual contributions is $2,700 in a general election.)
Mr. Cohen also admitted he had arranged for an illegal corporate donation to be made to Mr. Trump when he orchestrated a $150,000 payment by American Media Inc. to a former Playboy playmate, Karen McDougal, in late summer 2016.
Prosecutors in Manhattan wrote last Friday to Judge Pauley that Mr. Cohen, in arranging the payments, “acted in coordination with and at the direction” of Mr. Trump, whom they referred to as Individual 1.
On Nov. 29, charged by Mr. Mueller’s office with lying to Congress, Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty again.
The two prosecuting offices each wrote to Judge Pauley, offering sharply contrasting portrayals of Mr. Cohen.
The Southern District depicted him as deceitful and greedy and unwilling to fully cooperate with its investigation. It said it declined to sign Mr. Cohen as a formal cooperator because he refused to discuss fully any crimes in his past or crimes by others that he was aware of — its policy for witnesses who seek to cooperate.
The Southern District wrote to the judge that Mr. Cohen had a “rose-colored view of the seriousness” of his crimes, which they said were “marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.”
Mr. Mueller, on the other hand, said Mr. Cohen had “gone to significant lengths to assist” the Russia investigation and recommended that he receive some credit for his help.
Lawyers for Mr. Cohen, who once claimed he would “take a bullet” for Mr. Trump, cited his cooperation with Mr. Mueller and his attempts to assist the Southern District prosecutors in asking that he be spared prison.
Mr. Cohen’s lawyers, Guy Petrillo and Amy Lester, argued in a memorandum to the judge that Mr. Cohen had taken responsibility for his crimes and had cooperated with Mr. Mueller’s office, meeting seven times with those prosecutors to offer information. They also noted that Mr. Cohen had met twice with prosecutors in Manhattan.
Mr. Trump last week weighed in with his own sentencing recommendation, tweeting angrily, “He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.”