Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about work he did on a Trump real estate deal in Russia. (Nov. 29)
NEW YORK – Federal prosecutors said Friday that President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen should serve “a substantial prison term” for trying to buy the silence of two women who said they had sexual affairs with Trump and tax evasion and lying to banks.
The office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York said Cohen should serve roughly 42 months in prison for his confessed crimes.
While noting that Cohen had provided information to law enforcement officials, the prosecution sentencing memo said he presented a “rose-colored view” of his own conduct.
“The crimes committed by Cohen were more serious than his submission allows and were marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life,” the prosecutors wrote.
Separately, Special Counsel Robert Mueller credited Cohen for correcting his lies to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow — and for going to “significant lengths” to assist Mueller’s investigation of Russia-related matters that could involve Trump.
Mueller’s investigative team said it would be “appropriate” if any sentence that Cohen were to get for the Russia matter ran concurrently with the sentence imposed for the issues investigated by New York federal prosecutors.
The sentencing recommendations were delivered to U.S. District Judge William Paulley a week after Cohen’s defense team asked the judge to spare the New York City attorney from serving any time in prison on either legal matter.
Pauley is scheduled to sentence Cohen on Wednesday.
The prosecution sentencing memos for Cohen are the latest development in the fate of a pugnacious attorney long known as an ardent Trump loyalist and fixer of difficult problems. The relationship between the two men ruptured as Cohen pleaded guilty this year to campaign finance violations, fraud and lying to Congress while Trump continued to brand Mueller’s investigation as a witch hunt.
Cohen pleaded guilty in August to violating campaign finance laws by paying hush money at Trump’s direction to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Trump has denied the women’s accounts.
Prosecutors said the payments were made “in order to influence the 2016 presidential election,” and were “coordinated with one or more members” of Trump’s winning campaign, “including through meetings and phone calls about the fact, nature, and timing.”
Cohen also pleaded guilty in August to charges of tax evasion and making false statements to a federally insured bank. Prosecutors say he lied to banks to obtain improper loans and lied to the government to avoid paying taxes.
Cohen pleaded guilty last week to charges that he lied to congressional committees investigating Trump’s dealings with Russia.
Cohen told the Senate and House panels last year that planning for a Trump Tower in Moscow, discussions about a possible Trump trip to Russia in connection with the project, and related talks with Russia officials all ended in January 2016.
That meant the subject was dropped before the Iowa caucuses in February, the first political battlefield in the 2016 presidential race.
But Cohen said last week that he continued to discuss efforts to win Russian governmental approval for the project within The Trump Organization as late as June 2016. By then, Trump was the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Cohen also said he agreed to travel to Russia for the construction plan, and asked Trump about the possibility of him traveling there, too.
Cohen also acknowledged that he spoke to Russian officials about plans for the development project, which ultimately was never built.
In a sentencing memo filed by Cohen’s defense team last week, attorneys Guy Petrillo and Amy Lester provided additional detail about what they characterized as the initial “false summary” about the Moscow project.
The memo appeared to implicate Trump, referred to as the “client” or “Client-1,” in some of Cohen’s self-confessed crimes.
“Michael had a lengthy substantive conversation with the personal assistant to a Kremlin official following his outreach in January 2016, engaged in additional communications concerning the project as late as June 2016, and kept Client-1 apprised of these communications,” Petrillo and Lester wrote.
Cohen and Client-1 “also discussed possible travel to Russia in the summer of 2016, and Michael took steps’ to clear dates for such travel,” they wrote.
Regarding the hush money, Cohen’s attorneys wrote that he did not personally make payments to buy the silence of “Woman-1,” possibly a reference to McDougal.
But they wrote that he “participated in payment planning discussions with Client-1 and the Chairman and CEO of Corporation-1.”
McDougal said The National Enquirer paid her for her story but did not publish it. The supermarket tabloid is owned by American Media, which is led by Trump friend David Pecker.
The attorneys described a similar effort to prevent Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, from publicizing her claims about a sexual fling with Trump.
Cohen paid Daniels “in coordination with and at the direction of Client-1, and others within” The Trump Organization, they wrote.
Cohen’s attorneys asked for leniency based on his voluntary cooperation with the investigations by Mueller and federal prosecutors, and with Trump-related investigations by the New York Attorney General’s Office and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.
They stressed that Cohen had owned up to personal wrongdoing instead of joining Trump’s continuous criticism and questioning of Mueller.
“He could have fought the government and continued to hold to the party line, positioning himself for a pardon or clemency,” Petrillo and Lester wrote. “But, instead — for himself, his family, and his country — he took personal responsibility for his own wrongdoing and contributed, and is prepared to continue to contribute, to an investigation that he views as thoroughly legitimate and vital.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Kevin McCoy on Twitter: @kmccoynyc
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