Cohen’s leniency bid fails; US seeks ‘significant’ prison time

Michael Cohen exits from federal court in New York. (Bloomberg pic)

MANHATTAN: Michael Cohen’s desperate bid to save himself appears to have failed.

Despite coming clean on some of his crimes and providing significant information about Donald Trump’s campaign and business, federal prosecutors said Friday he deserves a substantial prison term for a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.”

In two sharply-worded legal briefs outlining four “separate and serious crimes,” federal prosecutors in Manhattan and Special Counsel Robert Mueller said Cohen should serve “significant time” in prison. The US Probation Office put that at 3 1/2 years when he’s sentenced on Dec 12.

While Cohen took “significant steps” to assist Mueller, prosecutors in Manhattan said he refused to reveal all about his misconduct in New York or help investigators there.

“After cheating the IRS for years, lying to banks and to Congress, and seeking to criminally influence the presidential election, Cohen’s decision to plead guilty –- rather than seek a pardon for his manifold crimes -– does not make him a hero,” the prosecutors in Manhattan said in a filing.

The filings underscore that Cohen waited until after pleading guilty to begin talking in earnest with prosecutors and never reached a cooperation deal.

Cohen has asked for no prison time when he’s sentenced next week, citing his assistance to investigators. He’s pleaded guilty in two cases and admitted nine crimes, including tax evasion, arranging the payments to silence the women for the purpose of influencing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, and arranging illegal campaign payments to silence two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.

Cohen appears to have miscalculated at several turns. Publicly, he vowed to “take a bullet” for Trump, but after federal agents raided his offices in April, he appeared to buckle. In a surprising interview with George Stephanopoulos, he said he would do what’s best for his family and, pointedly, for his country.

But he may have missed his moment to admit to crimes and cooperate, as another Trump insider, Michael Flynn, had done. Behind the scenes, the documents indicate, Cohen was slow to admit wrongdoing. It was only after he pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance and other violations that he began providing credible information, the special prosecutor said.

He ultimately sat through seven sessions with Mueller’s team and, starting in the second interview, provided credible information, according to the filings.

Some of what Cohen told Mueller, who is probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, was detailed in the special counsel’s seven-page filing. For instance, Cohen told the special counsel that in September 2015, shortly after Trump declared his candidacy, Cohen talked to Trump about arranging a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin during a United Nations General Assembly meeting. No such meeting took place.

‘Phenomenal Impact’

Cohen also told Mueller about attempts by Russian nationals to contact the Trump campaign, including someone who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the government who could offer “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.” The person repeatedly proposed a meeting between Trump and Putin and said it would have “phenomenal impact” on a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow.

There is “no bigger warranty in any project than consent of [the president of Russia],” the person told Cohen, according to Mueller’s filing.

But prosecutors in Manhattan had a different take on Cohen’s cooperation. They said he was motivated by “personal greed and ambition” until the investigation began, and then came to the court seeking the “extraordinary leniency” after pleading guilty. They argued that Cohen overstated his assistance to Mueller.

Although Cohen “answered questions about the charged conduct, he refused to discuss other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in which he may have participated,” the Manhattan prosecutors said in their filing.

Cohen had asked for leniency, telling a judge that he should be spared from prison because he’s sharing secrets with Mueller about the president and his company. Cohen’s request came a day after his dramatic, unannounced appearance in Manhattan federal court, where he admitted lying to House and Senate committees and said Trump was seeking to develop a Moscow hotel long after the 2016 presidential campaign got under way.

Cohen sentencing next week comes amid an onslaught of angry comments from Trump and his supporters, including hate mail and threats to him and his family, his lawyers said. In two tweets on Dec 3, Trump wrote:

“‘Michael Cohen asks judge for no Prison Time.’ You mean he can do all of the TERRIBLE, unrelated to Trump, things having to do with fraud, big loans, Taxis, etc., and not serve a long prison term? He makes up stories to get a GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself, and get his wife and father-in-law (who has the money?) off Scott Free. He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.”