Federal prosecutors in New York recommended a “substantial” prison term of several years for Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former fixer. But special counsel Robert Mueller’s office asked for no extra jail time in a separate case, citing his cooperation with investigators, including information Cohen provided about an offer of “political synergy” from Russia for the Trump campaign.
In a memo filed late Friday afternoon, Mueller said Cohen had gone to “significant lengths” to assist his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.
Mueller said Cohen has provided “credible” information consistent with other evidence gathered by the investigation. In particular, the memo noted, Cohen told prosecutors about “a Russian national who claimed to be a trusted person” in the Russian Federation who offered “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level” to the Trump campaign around November 2015.
That person, who is unnamed in the memo, sought to set up a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump, the memo said. Cohen did not follow up on the invitation, the memo added.
Mueller’s memo was filed in a case in which Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about plan for a Trump Tower is Moscow. It was released shortly after a memo in another case in which Cohen admitted to financial skulduggery including hush-money deals to silence porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, who claim they had affairs with Trump, before Election Day 2016.
Cohen pleaded guilty in August to eight counts related to campaign finance, tax, and bank fraud. In that case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan suggested a judge sentence Cohen next week to approximately 42 months in prison, down from guidelines that call for 51 to 63 months.
Cohen’s lawyers asked a federal judge for no prison time due to his guilty plea and cooperation with prosecutors.
U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami said Cohen had a “rose-colored view” of his crimes and cited a lack of “fulsome” cooperation with Manhattan federal prosecutors to argue he deserved to be put behind bars for years.
The crimes committed by Cohen were “marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life (and was evidently hidden from the friends and family members who wrote on his behalf),” Khuzami wrote.
Khuzami criticized Cohen for not fessing up to “additional criminal conduct in which he may have engaged or had knowledge” when talking to Manhattan prosecutors. While prosecutors called his cooperation with the special counsel's Russia investigation a mitigating factor, the memo noted that Cohen offered to help Mueller’s team only once it became obvious that he was under investigation for the payoffs to the women.
Mueller was more magnanimous. His memo said prosecutors are not asking for a specific sentence and that whatever prison time Cohen gets for lying to Congress should be served concurrently with the sentence for financial crimes.
His memo noted that Cohen repeated his lies about the timing of the Trump Tower project during an initial proffer session with members of the special counsel’s officer. Nonetheless, he praised Cohen's cooperation afterwards. In a surprise development last week, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Organization’s efforts, during the 2016 campaign, to build a Trump-branded tower in Moscow.
In 2017, Cohen testified before the House and Senate intelligence committees that the plan to expand the Trump real-estate empire to Moscow ended before the Republican primaries began in early 2016 and that he could not recall a response from the Kremlin to his pleas for help in the project.
But, as Cohen later admitted in his plea agreement, he and Trump crony Felix Sater discussed the project as late as June 2016 and kept the Trump family apprised of its progress along the way. Despite his claims to Congress of a cold shoulder from the Kremlin, Cohen actually planned to travel to Russia to seal the deal and spoke to an aide to President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, according to court documents. Cohen even discussed with Trump traveling to Russia. Neither Cohen nor Trump made a trip.
Cohen’s legal woes started in April when the FBI raided Cohen’s Manhattan offices in April and discovered secret recordings he made of conversations with Trump and campaign staffers, along with documents detailing payments to Trump’s alleged mistresses. The raid came after a referral of evidence from Mueller’s office to Manhattan federal prosecutors.
Prosecutors on Friday said Cohen paid off McDougal and Daniels “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump, as Cohen previously claimed in court.
The prosecutors’ memo states states that Cohen promised to reimburse the publisher of the National Enquirer, Trump pal David Pecker, after the paper purchased the rights to McDougal’s account of her alleged affair with Trump but did not publish her story—a practice known as “catch and kill.” Cohen also admitted that the Trump Organization reimbursed him through a series of inflated invoices for the $130,000 hush money he paid to Daniels through a shell corporation.
In a sentencing memo, Cohen’s lawyers argued that the court should treat his illegal contributions leniently because they were made not just to influence the campaign but also to spare “personal embarrassment to [Trump] and his family.”
Prosecutors said, however, Cohen “acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments.”
In addition, Cohen’s lawyers noted that he’s met with the New York Attorney General’s office and helped out with its lawsuit against the Trump charitable foundation. Attorney General Barbara Underwood said the Trump family has used their foundation as a piggybank to take in tax-free donations and make illegal payouts for campaign-related expenses.
Cohen’s upcoming sentencing will be the latest chapter in an increasingly bitter, slow-motion betrayal by the man who once boasted he’d “take a bullet” for Trump.
Trump initially struck a sympathetic tone in public towards his former attorney and lashed out at the media for reporting that Cohen was about to “flip.” But after Cohen implicated the president in illegal campaign contributions, Trump turned on him. On Twitter, Trump has blasted Cohen as a “liar” and called for him to “serve a full and complete sentence” as punishment for his crimes.