Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) wrote in a brief letter to the judge about Fred W. Pagan, “I have confidence in his commitment to do a good job.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A federal judge halted a sentencing hearing Friday to permit the defendant, a longtime aide to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), to reopen talks with prosecutors about what the aide knew about a drug distribution conspiracy in the District.

Cochran, the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, was present in court and said after the postponement that “we were just here to answer any questions from anybody about a former staff member.”

Cochran added that he did not know if the former aide, Fred W. Pagan, 49, warranted a more lenient sentence in the methamphetamine case than prosecutors were requesting.

It is not uncommon for friends and relatives of defendants to offer statements about the individual’s character at a sentencing, and more than a dozen supporters of Pagan were in the courtroom Friday.

Cochran, 78, was escorted to and from the hearing by courthouse officials, who said the Cochrans requested that reporters’ questions be limited to the sidewalk as the senator walked to a waiting SUV.

U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell of Washington ordered the postponement after an 11th-hour request from attorneys for Pagan to continue to talk to prosecutors. Pagan pleaded guilty in August to conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Pearlman did not object to the request.

Howell made clear she thought Pagan’s offer to cooperate again with prosecutors was “too little, too late” but that it was the government’s decision.

“A defendant who has been involved in a methamphetamine trafficking case — purchasing and bringing that harmful drug into this community for any period of time — has to tell the government everything he or she knows so the government has the opportunity to cut it off,” Howell said.

A new sentencing date has not been set.

Pagan was dismissed in May from his $160,000-a-year job with Cochran after police and immigration authorities reported finding plastic bags with about 221.3 grams of a substance that tested positive for methamphetamine in an April 23 raid on Pagan’s home in Northwest Washington.

Prosecutors had sought a 46-month prison term, saying in court filings before the sentencing that while Pagan mostly cooperated with investigators, the government believed he probably had more knowledge about the distribution network than he had revealed.

Pearlman told Howell he did not object to the sentencing delay because of the potential impact it could have on Pagan’s sentence if he fully cooperates.

If Pagan is deemed to have fully cooperated, his defense argued he should be spared prison time or given a reduced sentence. “Addicts should be treated as patients, not as prisoners,” defense attorney Kobie A. Flowers wrote in filings to Howell before the sentencing. “A sentence of 36 months of probation and drug treatment leaves fellowship and hope intact.”

Pagan started working for the senator as a 16-year-old page before becoming an office manager, personal assistant and one of his highest-paid aides.

Cochran; his wife, Kay Webber Cochran; his daughter, Kate Cochran; the senator’s chief of staff; and two former chiefs of staff were among 30 people who wrote letters ahead of the hearing attesting to Pagan’s character and service.

Pagan was energetic, dutiful and dependable and over more than 30 years became “one of the Senate’s best known and appreciated” employees, Cochran wrote. “It is my intention to help him get a new start. I have confidence in his commitment to do a good job,” Cochran wrote in his brief letter.

In court papers, Pagan acknowledged receiving and holding methamphetamine for an unnamed distributor and romantic partner and sometimes requesting amounts for himself and selling small amounts to friends.

Authorities said that they also found gamma-butyrolactone, or GBL, a controlled substance said to build muscle, enhance sexual ability and aid sleep. GBL also breaks down into the “date rape” drug gamma-hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, they said in court filings.

Pagan acknowledged ordering and using GBL, a shipment of which was inspected by U.S. Customs officials, leading to the investigation. He agreed to forfeit $750 to the government, which Pagan received through what his attorney described as a “party and play” culture of gay life in Washington in which friends at his home reimbursed Pagan in “the same way a person might offer to pay for the wine at a dinner party.”

Pagan “devoted his life to hiding his homosexuality” and concealed his drug use, Flowers wrote to the court, but the attorney added that Cochran’s aides said he never betrayed their trust, whether dealing with sensitive office matters or in instances in which he had access to bank accounts or house keys.

Pagan also cared for Rose Cochran, Cochran’s wife of 50 years, who died in December 2014 after progressive dementia.

“I trusted Fred implicitly . . . and he never betrayed us in these areas,” Kay Cochran wrote to the court. “Looking back, I realize there were signs of change. The ‘Cochran family’ should have noticed because his work habits changed,” she added, referring to Pagan’s secret drug use.

She added, “Fred has told me how sorry he is for making the poor choices he made,” including disappointing his many friends “and most of all Senator Cochran.”