Cohen gets prison, saying his duty was to hide Trump’s ‘dirty deeds’

Michael Cohen, who long kept President Donald Trump’s business and personal secrets, is headed to prison, pledging he will continue to spill potentially damaging information to Special Counsel Robert Mueller and other prosecutors.

After taking half steps with prosecutors to cooperate, Cohen didn’t win the leniency he sought. He was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday in a courtroom appearance in which he spoke with audible emotion, surrounded by family, and in tones sharply critical of the president.

While saying he accepted full responsibility for his crimes, he described the burden of his role as a fixer for Trump’s business and later his campaign. “It was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds,” he said.

Cohen described his complex relationship with the president, which included payments of hush money on the eve of the 2016 presidential election to two women claiming affairs with Trump. He offered no new revelations on dual investigations that continue in Washington and New York into Russian election interference and campaign finance violations.

The White House didn’t have an immediate comment.

President Trump's attorney Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Also on Wednesday, American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, admitted it made a $150,000 payment to a former Playboy model for for a story about her alleged affair with Trump that never ran. The company said that talk of killing damaging stories about the candidate were held as far back as 2015, with Cohen and another campaign official. It agreed to cooperate, suggesting that prosecutors are delving deeper into potential campaign finance violations.

Cohen’s pledge to keep helping prosecutors adds to other indications that the special counsel is picking up valuable leads in his investigation of Russian attempts to tilt the election in Trump’s favor. On Tuesday, lawyers for Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, said their client had met with prosecutors 19 times and handed over thousands of pages of documents.

While Mueller’s prosecutors said Cohen helped the core Russia inquiry, federal prosecutors in Manhattan criticized him for withholding information. In asking for a lighter sentence, Cohen’s lawyer pledged in court that his client would continue to help inquiries that could continue for years.

The sentence covered nine felonies. Cohen evaded federal income taxes, participated in the scheme to silence the women in violation of campaign finance laws, and lied to banks and Congress. Cohen first lied to investigators, and later pleaded guilty and began talking to prosecutors without a cooperation deal.

His change of heart came too late to win the judge’s sympathy. “The irony is today is the day I get my freedom back,” Cohen said. “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.”

Cohen 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 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. Flynn, the former Trump campaign aide and national security adviser, 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.

— With assistance by Greg Farrell

Bloomberg News