Cohen Cites Cooperation With Mueller in Plea to Avoid Prison
(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s former lawyer pleaded for leniency Friday, telling a judge he should be spared from prison because he’s spilling secrets to Special Counsel Robert Mueller about the president and his company.
Michael Cohen’s lawyers made the request a day after his dramatic appearance in federal court, where he admitted he lied to Congress about the Trump Organization’s effort to build a Moscow tower.
Only months ago, Cohen’s bid to remain free would have been unimaginable. In April, after FBI agents raided his home, office and hotel suite, he appeared headed to prison in a separate tax-evasion and campaign-finance case built on what appeared to be overwhelming evidence.
But Cohen, once among the president’s most loyal allies, turned on Trump after pleading guilty and provided prosecutors with detailed accounts of his possible wrongdoing. In court in August, he told a judge that he violated campaign-finance laws at the president’s direction and, on Thursday, said he lied to Congress to remain consistent with Trump’s messaging on the campaign trail.
“Michael’s decision to cooperate required and requires singular determination and personal conviction,” his lawyers said in a court filing late Friday in Manhattan federal court. “He could have fought the government and continued to hold the party line, positioning himself perhaps for a pardon or clemency, but, instead -- for himself, his family and his country -- he took personal responsibility for his own wrongdoing and contributed, and is prepared to contribute, to an investigation that he views as thoroughly legitimate and vital.”
Cohen’s lawyers said their client had seven meetings with the special counsel’s office, met twice with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, and talked to representatives of the New York attorney general’s office, which is suing Trump over his foundation. Cohen “also provided the NYAG with documents concerning a separate open inquiry,” according to the filing.
Cohen’s cooperation has come despite the withering fury of Trump and his supporters, including hate mail and threats to him and his family, the lawyers noted.
“In the context of this raw, full-bore attack by the most powerful person in the United States, Michael, formerly a confidante and adviser to Mr. Trump, resolved to cooperate, and voluntarily took the first steps toward doing so even before he was charged,” they wrote. “He expects to cooperate further.”
Cohen, 52, is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 12 in the tax-evasion and campaign-finance case. The new case has been transferred to the judge handling the earlier one, and Cohen is seeking to be sentenced on both at the same time. Prosecutors in Mueller’s office, which is probing Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, have agreed to brief the sentencing judge on Cohen’s cooperation.
Cohen faces more than five years in prison in the tax-evasion and campaign-finance case and as long as six months behind bars in the lying-to-Congress case, under recommended federal sentencing guidelines. But the judge could sharply reduce the sentence because of Cohen’s cooperation. Cohen’s asking for a punishment of “time served,” meaning the hours spent in custody before each of his guilty pleas.
Prosecutors will file their sentencing recommendation at a later point.
Cohen pleaded guilty to nine felonies in the two cases, which will cost him his law license in addition to whatever sentence he receives.
On Aug. 21, he admitted his role in hush-money payments to two women, adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal before the 2016 election, to prevent them from publicizing their claims of extramarital affairs with Trump. He’s to be sentenced for two campaign finance violations, five counts of tax evasion and one count of making a false statement to a financial institution.
Cohen didn’t then have a cooperation deal, but his lawyer said Cohen was eager to help the government. Cohen had worked for Trump for about a decade -- first at the Trump Organization and later as a close aide during his boss’s campaign for the White House. He famously said he’d “take a bullet” for Trump.
Cohen set out to win over prosecutors both in Manhattan, where the tax-evasion and campaign-finance case was handled, and in the special counsel’s office in Washington. Over the ensuing months, he had multiple meetings with Mueller’s team.
On Thursday, with the lying-to-Congress charge added to the mix, Cohen said his work on a plan to build a Trump tower in Moscow continued into June 2016, after Trump had locked up the Republican presidential nomination. He said he lied when he told Congress that the Moscow project was abandoned that January, before the Republican nominating contests.
Cohen also said in his guilty plea that he updated Trump on the proposed deal more frequently than he’d previously acknowledged, briefed certain members of Trump’s family whom he didn’t identify, and had a 20-minute call with an aide to a Kremlin official. Cohen told the court he lied to be consistent with Trump’s campaign positions and out of a sense of loyalty.
The revelation tied Trump to Russia throughout much of the campaign, and suggested that the real estate developer turned politician misled the public in July 2016 when he said he had no business dealings with Russia.
The Moscow plan ended on June 14, 2016, the same day the Washington Post reported that Russians had hacked the Democratic National Committee. Days earlier, three senior campaign officials held a now infamous meeting in Trump Tower in New York with a Russian lawyer claiming to have dirt on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, one of numerous contacts between Russians and campaign officials under scrutiny.
Trump said Thursday that he had decided not to pursue the Moscow project, but that there would’ve been nothing wrong if he had. He said he’d been focused on running for president in 2016 but that no rule prevented him from continuing to do business.
He also branded his former lawyer as a liar and “weak person” who was making up a story to cut his prison sentence.
Cohen submitted 37 letters from family, friends and business acquaintances supporting his bid for leniency. Several referred to what Robyn and Richard Ebers, a married couple who are friends of Cohen, called the “destructiveness caused by Michael’s relationship with Mr. Trump.”
“Michael’s greatest characteristic, yet also on occasion his Achilles heel, is his staunch loyalty,” wrote Kimberly Green, another friend. “When he is behind you it is unfaltering, at times to his detriment.”
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