Ex-Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen Should Get 'Substantial Prison Term,' Feds Say

Dec 7, 2018
Originally published on December 10, 2018 4:45 pm

Updated at 8:51 p.m. ET

Federal prosecutors have requested a "substantial term of imprisonment" for Donald Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen but asked that a judge consider his cooperation with the special counsel's Russia probe and other investigations in his sentencing.

The recommendation came from a pair of much-anticipated sentencing memos submitted by the government Friday evening. Those documents also provide new details on the "relevant and truthful" information Cohen has provided special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation into contacts between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia.

In a statement Friday night, the White House said the "government's filings in Mr. Cohen's case tell us nothing of value that wasn't already known." Press secretary Sarah Sanders continued: "Mr. Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr. Cohen is no hero."

Cohen has pleaded guilty to financial crimes, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress. The cases were handled by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and Mueller's office.

In their filing, prosecutors in New York argued against leniency for Cohen, saying he had committed four federal crimes over the course of several years.

Cohen, they say, was "motivated by personal greed," and they argue that he "repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends."

The New York prosecutors asked a judge to impose a sentence moderately less than the potential maximum of 63 months in prison that Cohen faces. The Probation Department has recommended a 42-month term.

The campaign finance violations that Cohen pleaded guilty to in New York federal court related to so-called hush-money payments made to two women who said they had affairs with Trump. Trump has acknowledged the payments to one of the women but has denied their underlying allegations of sexual relationships.

Cohen has said those payments were directed by Trump.

Although Cohen has been cooperating with investigators in New York City and with the office of Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, he does not have a full cooperation agreement with the government.

Mueller's office, in a separate filing, did not take a position on what sentence Cohen should receive when he appears before a judge next week in New York City.

Mueller's filing did, however, outline Cohen's help in the Russia investigation. It said that over the course of seven meetings with investigators, he has provided new information about contacts between Trump's presidential campaign and Russians, including outreach as early as November 2015 from people seeking to arrange meetings between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The meeting did not take place.

Cohen has also provided information about "certain discrete Russia-related matters core" to the special counsel's investigation. Mueller's filing says he obtained that information "by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives during the campaign," which appears to be a reference to the Trump Organization.

And finally, the special counsel's team says Cohen gave them information about his contacts with people connected to the White House, as well as providing detail about how his false statements to Congress were put together.

Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about negotiations between Trump's business and powerful Russians about a possible deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow, a building that ultimately was never built.

Cohen initially told Congress that the talks had stopped by January 2016. Actually, he said in his guilty plea, they continued well into the campaign, past the point at which Trump became the Republican front-runner.

The crafting of that narrative was a "deliberate effort to use his lies as a way to set the tone and shape the course of the hearings in an effort to stymie the inquiries," the special counsel's office said.

Cohen wanted to obscure from Congress and the public that if the project had been completed, Trump's company "could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues," prosecutors wrote.

They continued: "The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with [Trump] well into the campaign was material to the ongoing congressional and [special counsel] investigations, particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election."

Mueller's office has been tasked with investigating whether anyone in Trump's campaign conspired with the Russians who were waging those "active measures" against the United States and the West.

Trump says his campaign had nothing to do with the Russian election interference and has denounced Mueller's investigation as a "hoax" and a "witch hunt."

Trump repeated his criticism again on Friday and said on Twitter that his attorneys have already begun work on a rebuttal to Mueller in case the special counsel's report is damaging to Trump and becomes public.

The Trump camp also has focused its criticism on Cohen, with Trump's attorney calling Cohen "a liar" who is making up stories to persuade the government to ease his sentence.

The president has acknowledged "lightly" looking into a Trump Tower project in Moscow but said that doing so broke no law and that he was perfectly within his rights to continue to operate his real estate business at the same time his presidential campaign was picking up steam.

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Federal prosecutors are requesting substantial prison time for President Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen. Cohen has pleaded guilty to financial crimes, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas is here with us in the studio again. Hello again, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hello again.

KELLY: So you've gone through these latest court filings. What are the prosecutors saying?

LUCAS: Well, there are two court filings here, it's important to note. One is by the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York, and the other is by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office. Now, the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York, its file - its filing is related to Cohen's guilty plea to financial crimes, campaign finance violations committed in New York. This filing is not good news for Cohen. Prosecutors say that he committed at least four serious crimes. They say he was motivated by personal greed. And they reject Cohen's appeal for leniency from the judge. Cohen had been asking for time served, so in essence no time...

KELLY: No more prison time. Right.

LUCAS: ...No time in jail. Prosecutors in New York say, nope, we're not game with that. They are asking for Cohen to get from four to five years in prison.

KELLY: All right. So that's the first filing, from the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York. What about the other one that's coming from Special Counsel Mueller's office?

LUCAS: Well, Mueller's team does not have a recommendation as to a particular sentence. But in the document today - it's seven pages - we learned more about Cohen's cooperation and what he's been telling investigators.

KELLY: And what more did we learn? What has he been talking about?

LUCAS: Well, Mueller's team says that over the course of seven meetings that it has had with Cohen, he has provided what they call relevant and truthful information. For example, they say he's provided information about his own contacts with Russian interests during the campaign, discussions with others while making those contacts. He's provided information about certain, quote, "discreet Russia-related matters" core to the investigation. They say he obtained this by virtue of his regular contact with Trump Organization executives during the campaign.

That could point to members of the Trump family who hold senior positions in the Trump organization. They also say that he's provided information about his contact with people connected to the White House in 2017 and 2018, so it connects us to the White House there. And finally, it says that he has described the circumstances around preparing and circulating his response to congressional inquiries while continuing to accept responsibility for what were ultimately false statements. That, of course, relates to the lies he's admitted telling Congress about efforts to build this Trump Tower in Moscow.

KELLY: So a lot of information packed into this - what is it - 38-page document we've got in front of us and, interestingly, none of it redacted. Let me ask you about one other thing we learned today from the U.S. attorney's office, that Cohen does not have a formal cooperation deal. Why not?

LUCAS: That's right. Well, Cohen's lawyers said in their sentencing memo, in their request - they said that he didn't have a formal deal because basically he wants to move on from this. This has destroyed his life, and he needs to move forward and look ahead. What the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York is saying is that he doesn't have a formal deal because he's declined to provide information about additional criminal conduct that he may personally have engaged in or that he may have knowledge of. Now...

KELLY: So he cooperated, but not enough.

LUCAS: He cooperated, but normally, in order to get a cooperation deal, you have to provide information about all criminal conduct that you have knowledge of. You do that, and then the government generally - or often - will ask the court to go easy on you. Now, Cohen is asking, as I said, for no time served - sorry - for time served, so no time at all. We now know that the government is asking for up to five years - very different perspective there. The decision ultimately lies in the hands of a federal judge in Manhattan who will make that decision on December 12.

KELLY: Next week. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas, thanks.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.