From Trump Fixer to Convict: Michael Cohen Begins Prison Term
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s longtime fixer Michael Cohen is reporting Monday to the federal prison in Otisville, New York -- marking a steep fall for a man who a year ago seemed capable of bringing down his former boss.
Cohen, once a combative New York lawyer who bullied Trump’s enemies and paid money to silence a porn star, was an intimate witness to Trump’s business dealings and his internal campaign decisions. He’d snapped photos of confidential documents with his mobile phone and recorded their private conversations.
On Monday, Cohen left Park Avenue for the prison in Otisville, where he’ll join about 110 convicts at a minimum-security camp that’s adjacent to a medium-security prison. Like Cohen, most of the camp’s inmates are serving relatively short sentences for offenses such as white-collar crime and drug-related violations.
“I hope that when I rejoin my family and friends that the country will be in a place without xenophobia, injustice and lies at the helm of our country,” Cohen told reporters when he left his apartment to report to prison. “There still remains much to be told, and I look forward to the day that I can share the truth.”
Cohen, who’s Jewish, will be housed in a camp that’s a magnet for observant Jews. Otisville offers kosher meals and religious services, and Cohen will have access to rugelach for $5.55, gefilte fish for $5.15 and $6 yarmulkes.
He’ll be the third Trump aide to serve time in prison, after the president’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos. Two others are awaiting sentencing.
For Cohen, the shift began after the FBI raided his home, office and hotel room. He pleaded guilty to crimes including campaign finance violations and bank fraud and began cooperating with prosecutors. In Trump’s parlance, he’d “flipped.”
But Justice Department officials concluded that Cohen had little more to offer them. His credibility was in tatters. Federal prosecutors in New York told a judge that Cohen’s “remorse is minimal” and that his guilty plea “does not make him a hero.”
Less than 10 weeks before he was required to report to prison, a sheepish Cohen appeared before a congressional panel in a last-ditch effort to salvage his reputation -- and take one final shot at the man he’d affectionately called “the boss” for a decade.
“He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat,” Cohen, 52, told lawmakers in late February. “I regret the day I said ‘yes’ to Mr. Trump. I regret all the help and support I gave him along the way.”
Cohen’s downfall can be traced to 2016. In the weeks leading up to the presidential election, Cohen arranged for hush-money payoffs to two women who claimed they had extramarital affairs with Trump, including Stephanie Clifford, the adult film actress known as Stormy Daniels.
Cohen set up a company -- Essential Consultants, LLC -- to facilitate one of the payments, later drawing the attention of Special Counsel Robert Mueller for possible Russian-linked activities, before Mueller referred the matter to federal prosecutors in Manhattan.
A lengthy investigation followed in which investigators retraced his steps using cell phone location data, peeked into his call history, obtained his banking records and interviewed his associates. The probe burst into public view with an FBI raid in April 2018 that interrupted newscasts around the country and prompted an outcry from the White House.
A few months earlier, Cohen had publicly pledged his loyalty to Trump, telling Vanity Fair that he would take a bullet for the president. After the raid, Trump returned the favor, announcing on Twitter that Cohen was a “fine person,” one he had always liked and respected, who would never flip on his boss.
But that’s exactly Cohen ultimately did -- saying that his family and country came first. He hired lawyer Lanny Davis, a former operative close to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Associates of Cohen began warning that the things Cohen knew from years of working steps from the future president’s office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower could end his administration.
Turning on Trump
When Cohen pleaded guilty to nine felonies, first in August and then in November, he fingered Trump as a culprit. Trump directed him to break campaign finance laws, Cohen alleged, and when Cohen lied to Congress about election-year plans to build a Trump-branded tower in Moscow, he did so to protect the president. A judge sentenced him to three years.
Trump lashed out at his former employee. “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” he wrote on Twitter.
Cohen spoke with federal prosecutors and Mueller’s investigators for dozens of hours. His name was sprinkled throughout Mueller’s report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and Trump’s alleged efforts to impede Mueller’s inquiry. Mueller’s team referred to his testimony more than a hundred times.
Congressional Democrats wanted to hear from him, too, and invited him to Washington in February for hours of testimony that was broadcast live on cable news networks. Millions of Americans watched Cohen lay out a litany of damning allegations against his former boss.
“My loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything,” Cohen told lawmakers. “My family’s happiness, friendships, my law license, my company, my livelihood, my honor, my reputation and soon my freedom, and I will not sit back, say nothing and allow him to do the same to the country.”
Cohen had hopes that the information he had on Trump could prove useful to investigators, perhaps enough to help him avoid prison.
But federal investigators already had what they needed. Any additional testimony he could offer was of questionable value since he’d pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.
In a scathing December memorandum, federal prosecutors in Manhattan described Cohen as a cheat who used his legal knowledge to live a "double life" marked by deception and threats. Cohen’s crimes, they said, "reveal a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy."
"Cohen knew exactly where the line was, and he chose deliberately and repeatedly to cross it," the prosecutors wrote.
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