Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, was sentenced to three years in prison and millions in forfeitures, restitution and fines by U.S. District Judge William Pauley III of the Southern District of New York on Wednesday.
The sentence was handed down after Cohen made a series of guilty pleas. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office prosecuted Cohen for lying to Congress, and the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted him for campaign finance violations, tax fraud and other charges.
Pauley handed down the sentence after Cohen’s emotional personal plea for leniency. As members of Cohen’s family openly wept, Pauley said that while Cohen’s willingness to plead guilty to a host of crimes in Manhattan, as well as to lying to Congress as part of Mueller’s investigation, and his contrition before the court were notable, they “did not wipe the slate clean.”
A significant term of imprisonment was needed, Pauley said, to “send a message” and deter others from the kinds of tax cheating, campaign finance violations and deceptions of Congress to which Cohen pleaded guilty.
Cohen’s legal team, led by former Manhattan federal prosecutor and Petrillo Klein & Boxer name attorney Guy Petrillo, had asked Pauley to spare Cohen from any incarceration. Cohen himself, in his emotional address to the court, said he took full responsibility for his actions, characterizing the day as one of freedom for him regardless of what sentence Pauley imposed.
“It may seem hard to believe but today is one of the most meaningful days of my life,” Cohen, dressed in a dark suit and light blue tie, told the court. He was, he told the court, escaping from the “personal and mental incarceration” that his “blind loyalty” to Trump had ensnared him in since the day he first came under the now-president’s employ.
Referencing recent Trump tweets, Cohen admitted that he had indeed been weak, but not for pleading guilty and working with prosecutors, but for “not having the integrity” to stand up to Trump. He said it had been his “duty to cover up” the “dirty deeds” of Trump.
“I am committed to proving my integrity and committed to history not remembering me as a villain in his story,” Cohen said.
Cohen apologized for the pain caused to his family—”the greatest punishment,” as he called it—as well as to the American people.
“You deserved to know the truth, and lying to you was unjust,” he said.
Cohen went on to defend his decision not to enter into a traditional cooperation agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York—something prosecutors from the office repeatedly pointed to in arguing Cohen deserved only a partial respite for working with Mueller’s office.
“The faster I am sentenced, the sooner I can return to my family,” he said. “I do not need a cooperation agreement to do the right thing.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos, presenting for the government, acknowledged, as prosecutors with Mueller’s office present in the Manhattan court pointed out, that Cohen’s willingness to be frank and open in the Washington, D.C., investigation deserved to be recognized by the court.
But, Roos said, Cohen’s work with Manhattan prosecutors “didn’t come anywhere close to assisting this office in the crimes charged.”
Roos argued that the court should not allow Cohen to receive benefits from a “selective cooperation,” and that a substantial period of incarceration remained warranted for the crimes he had pleaded guilty to.
Pauley agreed. As the start of the hearing, he noted that the sentencing guidelines for the acts in Manhattan suggested a prison sentence of between 51 and 63 months, while the lying to Congress plea could be punished for up to six months in prison.
Pauley made it clear that the crimes Cohen pleaded guilty to “require substantial punishment,” and that the “magnitude, breadth, and duration of his conduct require specific deterrence.” While he agreed with prosecutors that Cohen deserved to receive some credit for his willingness to cooperate, he noted that Cohen’s pledge to continue to assist prosecutors was “not a matter this court can consider now.”
Cohen will serve time on the Southern District case and the Special Counsel Office’s case concurrently under the court’s sentencing decision.
The Manhattan case, centering on payments to women with whom Trump allegedly had sexual liaisons, yielded a 36-month prison term. He was sentenced to two months for lying to Congress, the case brought by Mueller’s team. Cohen could have received as much as 69 months on all charges.
Pauley ordered Cohen to forfeit $500,000 and make restitution of nearly $1.4 million. He is also being fined $50,000 in each of the two cases.
Cohen, who built a reputation as a defender of Trump and a lawyer who would fix his legal and business problems, broke with the president earlier this year when he began to submit to interviews with federal prosecutors. He did not, however, sign a formal cooperation agreement.
Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler partner Harry Sandick, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said Cohen could still try to work with prosecutors in an attempt to reduce his sentencing, but SDNY is all but certain to demand what he previously refused to grant them.
“Why didn’t Cohen provide full cooperation? He said it was to escape the public spotlight, but it is hard to imagine that it was this alone, given the benefits that cooperating witnesses can receive,” Sandick said. “It seems likely that full cooperation would have involved admitting to crimes that the government otherwise could not prove—thereby raising his guidelines range—or cooperating against friends, family or other associates against whom he did not want to cooperate.”
A spokesman for Cohen, Lanny Davis, expressed disappointment at Pauley’s sentence.
“Michael has owned up to his mistakes and fully cooperated with Special Counsel Mueller in his investigation over possible Trump campaign collusion with Russian meddling in the 2016 election,” Davis said. “While Mr. Mueller gave Michael significant credit for cooperation on the ‘core’ issues, it is unfortunate that SDNY prosecutors did not do the same. To me, their judgment showed a lack of appropriate proportionality.”