Michael Cohen blames Trump’s ‘dirty deeds’ as he is jailed
US President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who once said he’d take a bullet for him, has lashed out at his ex-boss’ “dirty deeds” as he was given a 36-month prison sentence.
Cohen is the first member of Mr Trump’s inner circle to be jailed over the special counsel’s inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
He admitted lying to Congress, campaign finance violations and tax evasion.
In a New York court Cohen, 52, blamed his crimes on Mr Trump.
The disgraced attorney told Judge William Pauley on Wednesday that Mr Trump had caused him to “follow a path of darkness rather than light”.
He told the court his “weakness was a blind loyalty to Donald Trump” and that he “felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds”.
Cohen will serve his term concurrently with a two-month sentence he was given for lying to Congress about a possible Trump Tower project in Moscow, a charge levelled by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The judge gave Cohen until 6 March to report to Otisville prison in upstate New York.
In addition to the jail term, he was also ordered to forfeit nearly $2m (£1.6m).
As he left the court, Cohen did not pause to speak to journalists.
Mr Trump ignored reporters as they asked for his reaction later at the White House.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from the tale of the two Michaels, it’s that deals with federal prosecutors are best done quickly.
Former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, when confronted by the special counsel’s office, was quick to co-operate. He may end up with a sentence that includes no jail time.
Michael Cohen, on the other hand, initially put up a legal fight. Prosecutors say he never fully co-operated. Now the 52-year-old is facing three years in prison.
Another message from the fate of the two Trump associates is that Mr Trump’s business dealings, not Russian election meddling, could present a greater legal threat to the president. According to Mr Cohen’s lawyer, his client had the “misfortune” of being the president’s personal lawyer, business partner and all-around fixer for more than a decade. When investigators began digging into his actions, they uncovered a variety of chargeable crimes.
By all accounts, Mr Trump’s larger business empire is getting similar scrutiny. His long-time accountant is co-operating with investigators.
There’s no telling where Mr Mueller’s Russia investigation will end up, but one thing is clear – it’s not the only shark circling the White House.
What are his crimes?
The sentencing was related to two separate cases brought by the Southern District of New York and Special Counsel Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Mr Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations for his role in making hush money payments to women who alleged affairs with Mr Trump.
One of those payments was made by American Media Inc (AMI), the parent company of the National Enquirer, to suppress a woman’s allegations of an affair with Mr Trump.
On Wednesday the Department of Justice also announced it had reached a deal with AMI to forego prosecution as long as the company admitted it made the $150,000 payment “in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicise damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 election”.
The tabloid publisher also agreed to continue co-operating with investigators.
Mr Trump has acknowledged the payments despite denying the affairs, and called them a private transaction unrelated to his campaign.
The special counsel reached a plea deal with Cohen on one count of lying to Congress given his co-operation with the Russia inquiry.
The president’s former lawyer admitted to making false statements to Congress about a Trump property deal in Moscow during the 2016 election.
During Wednesday’s sentencing, Cohen’s lawyer, Guy Petrillo, said the special counsel probe “is of utmost national significance, no less than seen 40 years ago in Watergate”, referring to the scandal that brought down Republican President Richard Nixon in 1974.
Cohen’s other convictions for tax evasion and bank fraud charges are unrelated to the president.
In exchange for a more lenient sentence, he had offered information regarding his campaign finance violations, including paying adult film star Stormy Daniels hush money at the behest of “the candidate”, in what is understood to be a reference to Mr Trump.
Relations between Cohen, once considered Mr Trump’s right-hand man, and the president have soured over the course of Cohen’s criminal trials.
Mr Trump, who calls Mr Mueller’s inquiry a “witch hunt”, has repeatedly criticised his former ally since he began co-operating with investigators.
He told reporters last month that Cohen was “weak” and “not a very smart person”.
Who else has been implicated?
In other Russia investigation developments, former US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who admitted to lying to the FBI about his talks with the Russian ambassador, has asked for leniency.
Flynn’s attorneys requested he serve no prison time as he has co-operated with the special counsel’s investigation from the start.
Last week, the special counsel’s team announced that they would not be pursuing jail time for Flynn as he provided “substantial” details regarding the Trump campaign team and Russian officials.
Cohen, Flynn and ex-Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort are among a number of the president’s aides being investigated by Mr Mueller’s team.
Mr Manafort – who has been convicted of fraud – had been co-operating with the special counsel’s inquiry.
But last Friday, Mr Mueller’s team released a memo alleging he had breached a plea agreement by lying to investigators.