Michael Cohen, Donald Trump‘s former lawyer, was sentenced Wednesday, December 12th to three years in prison. Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty to crimes including tax evasion, lying to Congress about Trump’s prior business dealings with Russia, and paying illegal “hush money” during the 2016 presidential election to buy the silence of pornstar Stormy Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal—who both claim they had affairs with Trump.
In a sentencing memo filed last week, federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York wrote that “Individual 1”—Trump—directed Cohen to make the hush money payments, which are felony campaign finance violations. As Judge William Pauley of the Southern District of New York handed down the sentence, he told Cohen, “Each of these crimes is a serious offense against the United States.” “Mr. Cohen pled guilty to a veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct,” Pauley also noted.
Cohen will begin serving time on March 6th, 2019, likely at the Federal Correctional Institute Otisville, in upstate New York, per recommendation from the judge. “I take full responsibility for each act that I pled guilty to,” Cohen said on Wednesday. “The personal ones to me and those involving the President of the United States of America.”
He further called his sentencing “one of the most meaningful days of my life.”
Cohen’s lawyers had asked for no prison time, claiming he’d suffered enough. Cohen pleaded guilty in August to eight criminal counts, including tax fraud, breaking campaign finance laws and other charges. He admitted at the time that Trump directed him to make the illegal payments during the presidential campaign to Daniels and McDougal to keep them quiet about their alleged affairs with Trump—“for the purpose of influencing the election.” (Trump has repeatedly denied the affairs.) Cohen also pledged to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
This has been a stunning turnaround for Cohen, who had been so loyal to Trump that he once said in a 2017 interview with Vanity Fair that he would “take a bullet” for him. On Monday, December 10th, Trump issued a series of misspelled—and widely mocked—tweets disputing claims that the hush money payments Cohen made to Trump’s alleged mistresses were a “campaign contribution.”
As part of his plea, Cohen agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors. But in a sentencing recommendation filed Friday by prosecutors with the Southern District of New York, they recommended “substantial” prison time for a number of reasons including that “Cohen subsequently determined not to fully cooperate.”
Prosecutors also wrote that Cohen’s commission of two campaign finance crimes on the eve of the 2016 election for President of the United States struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency. “While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard,” they wrote, “Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows.”