Ex-Trump lawyer Cohen to be sentenced for hush money payments
U.S. President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen arrived in court on Wednesday to be sentenced for his role in the payment of hush money to women who said they had affairs with Trump, and for lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia discussed during the 2016 election campaign.
Cohen, 52, walked into federal court in downtown Manhattan with his wife, son and daughter, amid a crowd of photographers and reporters. His sentencing, before U.S. District Judge William Pauley, is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET. (1600 GMT).
Cohen pleaded guilty in August to charges by federal prosecutors in New York that, just before the election, he paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 and helped arrange a $150,000 payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal so the women would keep quiet about their past relationships with Trump, who is married. Trump denies having the affairs.
Cohen also admitted to unrelated charges of tax evasion and making false statements to banks.
Prosecutors say the hush money payments violated campaign finance laws and they concurred with Cohen's assertion that the payments were directed by Trump, implicating Trump in a possible campaign finance law violation.
In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Trump denied the payments were campaign contributions. "If it were, it’s only civil, and even if it’s only civil, there was no violation based on what we did," he said.
Federal law requires that the contribution of "anything of value" to a campaign must be disclosed, and an individual donation cannot exceed $2,700.
Cohen faces sentencing on a separate charge of lying to Congress brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible coordination between Trump's campaign and Russia. Cohen pleaded guilty to that charge last month.
The sentencing will cap the stunning about-face of a lawyer who once said he would "take a bullet" for Trump but has now directly implicated the president in criminal conduct.
Trump has denied any collusion with Russia and has accused Mueller's team of pressuring his former aides to lie about him, his campaign and his business dealings. Russia has denied U.S. allegations of interfering in the election to help Trump.
Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani has argued the hush payments cannot be considered campaign finance violations because they were made to protect Trump's reputation and would have been made even if he had not been a presidential candidate.
Although Cohen asked in a Nov. 30 court filing to be given no prison time based on his assistance in the investigation, prosecutors asked on Friday for Cohen to be given a "substantial term of imprisonment" for his crimes, with only a "modest" reduction to the roughly four- to five-year term they say he faces under sentencing guidelines.
They said Cohen declined to sign a formal cooperation agreement, which would have required him to be fully debriefed about his entire criminal history and his knowledge of others' crimes. His refusal to cooperate fully, they said, limited his credibility as a witness.
In his guilty plea to Mueller's charge, Cohen admitted he lied to Congress about the timeline for discussions about plans for real estate businessman Trump's skyscraper in Moscow.
He said in written testimony to two committees that the talks ended in January 2016, before the first contests to select the Republican presidential candidate, when they actually continued until June 2016 after Trump clinched the Republican nomination.
Mueller's sentencing recommendation was more generous, saying Cohen had provided valuable information about contacts between Trump's campaign and Russia. He recommended any sentence for lying to Congress be served concurrently with Cohen's sentence on the charges in New York.
Sentencing consultant Justin Paperny said Judge Pauley has a reputation for being tough on white-collar defendants and that Cohen probably made a mistake by asking for no jail time when he failed to fully cooperate.
"It’s like he wanted to have his cake and eat it too," said Paperny, adding that Cohen would do well to get a sentence in the low end of the guidelines.
Reporters and members of the public lined up to get into the courtroom on Wednesday and some were turned away. The courtroom was so packed that court officers initially tried to limit the number of people from Mueller's team, prompting one to quip, "we are kind of important."