The Slatest

Michael Cohen Sentenced to Three Years in Prison After Being Portrayed as Idiot by Own Lawyer

Cohen walks past a barricade amid a crowd of photographers while holding his daughter's arm.
Michael Cohen and his daughter arrive at a federal courthouse in New York City on Wednesday. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A federal judge in Manhattan has sentenced Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to three years in federal prison for crimes that include a felony in which the president is said to have participated.

The sentence covers Cohen’s guilty pleas to a number of charges, including two related to a 2016 scheme to fund nondisclosure agreements with women who say they had extramarital affairs with the now-president. Cohen and prosecutors say the payments were made at Trump’s direction in order to protect his presidential campaign and should have been disclosed as campaign expenses; Trump has said they were a “private” transaction and that any blame for their illegal structure is Cohen’s.

Cohen also admitted to lying to Congress about the Trump Organization’s efforts to develop an apartment tower in Moscow—he said the project had been abandoned in January 2016, before presidential primaries began, when in fact it was actively pursued until that June—and to having committed tax evasion and bank fraud related to his personal investments. (The pursuit of the Moscow project does not on its face appear to have been illegal but could conceivably have been related to a larger election-related scheme to conspire with Russian officials.)

In a classic case of insult being added to injury, Cohen received the sentence after his own lawyer, Guy Petrillo, argued that he should be shown lenience because he was too bumbling of a businessman to have really hurt anyone:

Cohen was prosecuted by Robert Mueller’s special counsel office on the congressional perjury charges and by the U.S. attorney from New York’s Southern District on the other charges. Representatives of the Southern District had urged the judge to give Cohen a “substantial” sentence, arguing that despite his guilty pleas he has not fully cooperated with its investigation into his activities. As former prosecutor Frank Bowman wrote in Slate recently, the government can still ask for a reduction in Cohen’s sentence, but only if he offers further cooperation within the next year.