The sentencing of President Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen to three years in prison on Wednesday followed his admission of guilt in August on eight felony counts brought by U.S. attorneys from the Southern District of New York. Given that we’ve expected Cohen to face punishment for months, that sentence by itself wasn’t particularly surprising.
What is surprising, upon stepping back from the news of the day, is that the longtime personal attorney for the president of the United States is going to jail for three years — nearly as long as Trump himself will serve following his 2016 election. In fact, including the three other individuals who’ve already been sentenced to or served prison time, the cumulative sentences obtained by SDNY or the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III makes up 90 percent of Trump’s term in office.
(Cohen’s sentence included two months to be served concurrent with the rest of his sentence for his guilty plea on charges of lying to Congress brought by the special counsel’s office.)
And that’s with at least three sentences outstanding. In order to extend longer than Trump’s term in office, the sentences for former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates need only extend beyond months in total. Manafort alone, it seems safe to assume, could face a longer sentence than that, given his existing conviction on fraud charges.
But we should again step back. The following people face or have served prison time:
- Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney for more than a decade who also acted as a surrogate for his campaign (3 years)
- Manafort, the chairman of Trump’s campaign for several months (TBD)
- Gates, his deputy, who went on to serve on the Trump transition team (TBD)
- Flynn, an early endorser who went on to advise his campaign and serve as national security adviser (TBD)
- George Papadopoulos, an adviser to the campaign who, like Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to investigators (14 days)
- Richard Pinedo, who pleaded guilty to providing Russian nationals with fraudulent bank account numbers that were then allegedly used to facilitate their interference efforts (6 months)
- Alex van der Zwaan, who worked with Manafort and Gates in their consulting business (30 days)
For the most part, the charges faced by these individuals don’t involve Trump or the campaign, something that the president will be sure to note. It’s also the case that Trump could move to block individuals from having to serve by pardoning them or commuting their sentences.
But, stepping back: The most serious sentence issued so far is Cohen’s, and among the charges on which he’s being sentenced are two that do directly implicate Trump. Those, of course, are the efforts to pay two women to keep quiet about alleged affairs before the 2016 election in violation of federal campaign finance laws. Government attorneys went out of their way to indicate Trump’s link to those charges in a court filing late last week.
The duration of the prison time faced by people swept up in Mueller’s probe or who are in Trump’s orbit is about the same amount of time that Trump will serve following the campaign on which many of them served. And there appear to be more shoes yet to drop.