December 13, 2018 08:31
Michael Cohen, the longtime personal attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump, was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison, after telling a New York judge that his "blind loyalty" to the U.S. leader led him to "cover up his dirty deeds."
U.S. Judge William Pauley imposed the sentence on Cohen for an array of crimes, including his role in arranging $280,000 in hush money payments to two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump, and for lying to Congress about Trump's efforts to build a skyscraper in Moscow. The judge told the 52-year-old Cohen that somewhere along the way, he had "lost his moral compass."
Cohen, who worked for Trump for 12 years, once bragged that he would "take a bullet" to support Trump. More recently, however, Cohen had turned against Trump and said at his sentencing that working for Trump was a "personal and mental incarceration." "My weakness could be characterized as a blind loyalty to Donald Trump," he said.
Now, Cohen also holds the distinction of being the closest figure to Trump sentenced to prison in the wide-ranging criminal investigations of Trump's 2016 campaign, its links to Russia and whether, as president, Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probes being conducted by federal prosecutors in New York and special counsel Robert Mueller in Washington.
Several other prominent figures in Trump's orbit, including his former campaign chairman and his first national security adviser, have yet to be sentenced for various offenses.
Cohen attorney Lanny Davis said that after Mueller completes his investigation, Cohen would cooperate with congressional committees as they consider possible wrongdoing by Trump and his aides. Some Democrats in the House of Representatives have called for Trump's impeachment when they assume control of the chamber next month. "Mr. Trump's repeated lies cannot contradict stubborn facts," Davis said.
Cohen's lawyers asked that he serve no prison time, but Cohen took "full responsibility" for his crimes, "including those implicating the president of the United States. He said that his allegiance to Trump led him "to take a path of darkness instead of light."
Pauley rejected leniency for Cohen, saying, "This court firmly believes that a significant term of imprisonment is fully justified in this highly publicized case to send a message." The judge ordered him to surrender March 6 for his prison term and also pay nearly $1.9 million in financial penalties.
Prosecutors said that Cohen, at Trump's direction, facilitated the payments -- in violation of campaign finance laws -- to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal shortly before the 2016 election to buy their silence about alleged liaisons with the real estate mogul a decade before he ran for the presidency.
After Cohen was sentenced, the New York prosecutors announced they had reached a "non-prosecution agreement" with American Media Inc., which publishes the grocery store tabloid National Enquirer, to acknowledge that it paid McDougal $150,000 shortly before the 2016 election for her story about her claims that she had a months-long affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007 with the "principal purpose" of killing the information so it would not damage Trump's chances of winning the election.
Cohen's lawyers said he was in "close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel" when he prepared for congressional testimony last year falsely claiming that Trump had ended his efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow by early 2016, before Republican presidential nominating contests started.
Cohen more recently said that actually Trump had pursued the Moscow project through June 2016, the entirety of the Republican primary election calendar two years ago. Cohen said he briefed the then-candidate about his efforts to win approval for the Moscow project, although eventually it was abandoned.
Federal prosecutors in New York had called for a "substantial term of imprisonment," perhaps 3 1/2 years or more, because they say Cohen never fully cooperated with investigators about his crimes, which also include tax fraud and making false statements to a bank.
Trump and his lawyers have sought to downplay the payments to Daniels and McDougal, saying that at most, it was a civil, not criminal, violation of U.S. election laws.
On Twitter, Trump contended that Cohen was "just trying to get his sentence reduced" by making claims against him. The U.S. leader, angered by Cohen's allegations, has said that the lawyer deserves a "full and complete" sentence.
There was no immediate White House comment about Cohen's sentence. But Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said, "This is the real criminal sentence. I have no idea if it’s the right one or not, but I do know he's proven to be a consummate liar who has lied at all stages of his situation."
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