Michael Cohen issued a stinging rebuke of Donald Trump, his former boss, yesterday as he was sentenced to three years in prison, insisting it had been his job to cover up Mr Trump’s “dirty deeds”.
Cohen, who served as Mr Trump’s lawyer and fixer for a decade, likened his sentencing to a moment of “freedom” as he would no longer be bound by his relationship to his former employer.
The sentence hearing followed Cohen pleading guilty earlier this year to four crimes: tax evasion, lying to a financial institution, lying to Congress, and breaking campaign finance laws.
The last of those involved paying two women who claimed affairs with Mr Trump – Stormy Daniels, the porn star, and Karen McDougal, a former ‘Playboy’ model – to stay quiet before the 2016 presidential election.
Cohen has claimed in court that Mr Trump directed the payments – something the US president has denied. Mr Trump has also suggested such payments would not amount to crimes.
Appearing in a New York federal court yesterday, Cohen appeared to fight back tears at times as he made his case for leniency, while his parents, children, wife and in-laws watched on.
“This may seem hard to believe but today is one of the most meaningful days of my life,” Cohen said.
“The irony is today is the day I get my freedom back. I have been leading a personal and mental incarceration ever since the fateful day that I accepted the offer to work for a famous real-estate mogul whose business acumen I greatly admired.”
He accepted “full responsibility” for his crimes, but added of Mr Trump: “It was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.”
Cohen said he would not be remembered as “the villain” when a history of Mr Trump was written.
He also apologised to the American people, acknowledged that “you deserve to know the truth and lying to you was unjust”.
The comments underscored a remarkable about-turn for Cohen, who started this year as Mr Trump’s most ardent defender – boasting that he would “take a bullet” for the US president – before becoming an open and hostile critic.
Cohen had hoped his co-operation with the Russian election meddling investigation, being led by special counsel Robert Mueller, would spare him jail time for his crimes.
However, New York federal prosecutors, who pursued the cases along with Mr Mueller’s team, chastised Cohen for not fully co-operating.
William Pauley, a US district judge, said that Cohen should get “some credit” for some of the co-operation he provided but that it was not enough to “wipe the slate clean”.
“Mr Cohen appears to have lost his moral compass,” Judge Pauley said, adding that he had committed a “veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct” motivated by “personal greed and ambition”.
He suggested that Cohen’s actions amounted to an “insidious crime to our democratic institutions” and insisted his sentence needed to act as a deterrent.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay close to $2m (€1.75m) in fines and other financial penalties. He closed his eyes and shook his head as the sentence was read.
The three years was at the lower end of sentencing recommendations. Cohen must voluntarily surrender on March 6 – raising the prospect that he may strike a new co-operation agreement with prosecutors before that date.
Mr Trump played down the significance of the hush-money payments in an interview with Reuters before the sentencing, saying they did not amount to campaign contributions.
“Michael Cohen should have known what he was doing. I hope he did. My lawyers say frankly that everything he did was fine,” Mr Trump said.
(© Daily Telegraph London)