Lawyers for former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen argued Friday that their client should not go to prison for the criminal charges to which he has pleaded guilty, and linked much of his wrongdoing to his desire to protect and support President Trump.
In a late-night court filing, lawyers for the onetime Trump loyalist wrote that their client was a changed man who was eager to share his knowledge with law enforcement and mindful that he would have to “begin his life virtually anew.”
Their filing detailed what they said was Cohen’s extensive cooperation, including seven voluntary interviews with the team of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, as well as meetings with federal prosecutors in New York, representatives of the New York attorney general’s office and officials with the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, which are conducting wide-ranging probes into Trump’s campaign and his charitable foundation.
Friday’s filing directly connected Cohen’s wrongdoing to Trump. Cohen’s lawyers asserted, for example, that Cohen paid off women to keep quiet about alleged affairs with the president to stop them from “disseminating narratives that would adversely affect the Campaign and cause personal embarrassment.” And they said Cohen lied about efforts to finalize a Trump business project in Moscow during the heart of the campaign because he knew it was Trump’s “strongly voiced mantra” to minimize the investigation into connections between his campaign and the Kremlin.
Trump has repeatedly said he had no business dealings in Russia, tweeting in July 2016, “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia,” and telling reporters in January 2017 that he had no deals there because he had “stayed away.”
In fact, lawyers for Cohen alleged that he talked with a Russian official about a project there in January 2016 and had other, unspecified communications that continued as late as June 2016. They alleged Cohen kept Trump in the loop, and Trump and Cohen discussed the possibility of travel to Russia in the summer of 2016, with Cohen even taking steps to clear dates. That would have been just as Trump was clinching his party’s presidential nomination.
A lawyer for Trump and a White House spokesman did not return messages seeking comment Saturday. Trump last week accused Cohen of lying to spare himself time in prison — an allegation that is sure to be fueled by Cohen’s request for a punishment that includes no time behind bars.
Cohen had pleaded guilty in August to five counts of tax evasion, one count of making a false statement to a bank and two campaign finance violations, admitting that he and the chief executive of a media company worked in the summer of 2016 to keep an individual from publicly disclosing information that could hurt Trump’s campaign. Two women had alleged extramarital affairs with Trump, which the president denies.
On Thursday, Cohen added an additional guilty plea, admitting that he lied to Congress about an ultimately unsuccessful effort to build a Trump building in Russia. He is expected to be sentenced on Dec. 12, and prosecutors have yet to submit their own recommendation.
According to Cohen’s sentencing submission, federal guidelines in the first case call for him to spend as many as five years and three months in jail. His lawyers, though, disputed those calculations and argued that what they described as his remarkable cooperation warranted a sentence of “time-served.” Cohen has spent no time in jail outside of routine processing related to his convictions.
Cohen, unlike most defendants, did not enter into a traditional cooperation agreement so his sentencing would not be delayed, though he nonetheless met — and expected he would continue to meet — with law enforcement agencies that wanted to talk to him, his lawyers wrote. And he did so mindful of “regular public reports referring to the President’s consideration of pardons” and as Trump launched a “raw, full-bore attack” on the investigations which Cohen was aiding, they wrote.
“He could have fought the government and continued to hold to the party line, positioning himself perhaps for a pardon or clemency, but, instead — for himself, his family, and his country — he took personal responsibility for his own wrongdoing and contributed, and is prepared to continue to contribute, to an investigation that he views as thoroughly legitimate and vital,” Cohen’s lawyers wrote.
The sentencing submission traced Cohen’s background and sought to play down the non-Trump related charges to which Cohen pleaded guilty. But more notable than that were the allegations it leveled against the president.
Cohen’s lawyers argued both the campaign finance violations and the lies to Congress were a product of his “fierce loyalty” to Trump, whom they at times referred to as “Client-1.” They said Cohen’s conduct was “intended to benefit Client-1, in accordance with Client-1’s directives.”
“Michael regrets that his vigor in promoting Client-1’s interests in the heat of political battle led him to abandon good judgment and cross legal lines,” Cohen’s lawyers wrote.
They alleged Cohen was assured by Trump that he would be reimbursed for paying the lawyer of one of the women accusing him of an affair, and that Cohen “kept his client contemporaneously informed and acted on his client’s instructions.”
Similarly, Cohen’s lawyers wrote that when Cohen lied to Congress about the Trump Tower project, he did so essentially because he knew what the president wanted. The lawyers alleged that as Cohen’s own lawyer prepared his responses to congressional committees, Cohen “remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1.”
“As such, he was (a) fully aware of Client-1’s repeated disavowals of commercial and political ties between himself and Russia, as well as the strongly voiced mantra of Client-1 that investigations of such ties were politically motivated and without evidentiary support,” Cohen's lawyers wrote.
They added that Cohen knew Trump wanted to “dismiss and minimize the merit” of Mueller’s probe into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, and that Trump’s public spokespeople were trying to say that any contact with Russian representatives had ceased by February 2016.