A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced President Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen to three years in prison for financial crimes and lying to Congress, as the disgraced former “fixer” apologized but said he felt it was his duty to cover up the “dirty deeds” of his former boss. . . .
The downfall of the hard-charging, high-profile lawyer has potential consequences far beyond Cohen, as authorities have alleged Trump directed him in violating campaign finance laws. Facing his day of reckoning, Cohen laid plenty of the blame at the president’s feet, and his lawyer said he would continue to cooperate with the ongoing special counsel investigation of the president’s campaign.
Cohen’s fall should impart several lessons on the media, as well as the president and his associates.
First, contrary to Trump’s characterizations of crimes for which special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has obtained guilty pleas or convictions, Cohen’s offenses are not “peanut stuff.” He could have been sentenced to more than five years in prison. In handing down the sentence, the judge made clear that “a significant term of imprisonment is fully justified in this highly publicized case to send a message.” And if time in prison did not get the attention of Cohen’s former colleagues, the $2 million fine might. (The judge also ordered Cohen, "a multimillionaire who owns pricey real estate and a taxi medallion business, to pay nearly $2 million in financial penalties.")
Second, the severity of Cohen’s sentence underscores that the crimes we are talking about — crimes, which if committed by Trump — certainly fall within any reasonable definition of High Crimes and Misdemeanors. Bob Bauer, who served as White House counsel during the Obama administration, explains: “According to the sentencing memo, [Trump] orchestrated the illegal actions and directed and coordinated them with Cohen. His alleged personal involvement, and the elaborate steps taken to conceal the information, reflect the importance that he and his campaign seem to have attached to keeping the [Stormy] Daniels and [Karen] McDougal accounts off the public record and out of the public debate.” Bauer continues: “It may well have played a role in securing Trump’s election, and some portion of it continued for the president’s first year in office. But it must also be considered alongside the ongoing effort during the Trump administration to publicly conceal the scheme, in which Trump participated as president." If Trump continued lying about his knowledge of hush money, the conspiracy to defraud the voters continued into his presidency and enlisted aides (e.g., Hope Hicks, Sarah Sanders) to spread lies on his behalf.
Third, Wednesday’s events should leave no doubt that Mueller is vacuuming up mounds of evidence from multiple sources. Cohen will continue to assist prosecutors and has already, according to an attorney from Mueller’s team, provided “credible and reliable information about core Russia-related issues under investigation.” That is likely “collusion.” Cohen isn’t the only one ratting out Trump:
Separately, New York prosecutors announced Wednesday that they had struck a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, the company that produces the National Enquirer tabloid, for its role in squelching stories of women who said they had relationships with Trump. AMI paid $150,000 to one of the women before the 2016 election. As part of the agreement, AMI admitted it made the payment principally “in concert” with Trump’s campaign to “suppress the women’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
We only know a slice of a slice of the information that Mueller has obtained. To rely upon Cohen and to support a reduced punishment, Mueller must have been able to corroborate Cohen’s accounts with other evidence. If there are multiple sources of evidence proving the trickiest part of the possible charge against Trump — his intent to deceive the public in order to get elected — the president is in a world of trouble.
Fourth, Cohen isn’t done. Noting Cohen’s zealous criticism of his famous former client, my colleague Aaron Blake observes, “Cohen suggested he covered up ‘dirty deeds’ almost routinely, which makes you wonder what else he might have told special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team about such deeds.”
Cohen, we know from Mueller’s filings, has information about Trump’s play for a Trump Tower in Moscow (and, hence, thepresident’s nonstop lies about his lack of deals with a foe of the United States). However, between Cohen and Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who snagged immunity in exchange for cooperation, Mueller has a window into the Trump business operations, something Trump has feared all along. (Investigation of such matters, Trump has tried to assert, would be a “red line” for investigators; if so, Mueller has erased it.) If Trump and/or those working at his direction committed financial, tax or other business-related crimes, his secrets will no longer be secrets.
(Meanwhile, Letitia James, New York’s incoming state attorney general, told NBC News: “We will use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family as well.” (Trump, of course, cannot pardon himself if he committed state crimes.)
In sum, after Wednesday’s developments, we are much further along in establishing that Trump was involved in an illegal scheme; the scheme was a serious crime and the crime is just the sort of thing the framers had in mind when they included the power of impeachment.