Split on Sentencing Request as Mueller Lauds Cohen's 'Relevant and Useful' Info on White House

Michael Cohen, former lawyer to President Donald Trump, leaves his apartment building on New York's Park Avenue on Dec. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York argued that President Trump’s former personal attorney should serve “substantial” prison time as he acted unlawfully to influence the 2016 presidential election as directed by Trump and has not been especially cooperative in tangential investigations.

Special counsel Robert Mueller, in a separate sentencing memo also filed today in the Southern District, argued for more leniency for Michael Cohen, saying he has “provided relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017–2018 time period.”

Cohen is scheduled to be sentenced next Wednesday in Manhattan.

“Cohen, an attorney and businessman, committed four distinct federal crimes over a period of several years. He was motivated to do so by personal greed, and repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends. Now he seeks extraordinary leniency – a sentence of no jail time – based principally on his rose-colored view of the seriousness of the crimes; his claims to a sympathetic personal history; and his provision of certain information to law enforcement,” wrote Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Robert Khuzami. “But the crimes committed by Cohen were more serious than his submission allows and were marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life (and was evidently hidden from the friends and family members who wrote on his behalf).”

The 40-page sentencing memo from Khuzami outlines Cohen’s tax evasion, false statements to financial institutions, illegal campaign contributions, and false statements to Congress, as well as his meetings with law enforcement in connection to his guilty plea.

In the section on illegal campaign contributions, the Southern District prosecutors alleged that Trump ordered Cohen to commit two crimes.

“On approximately June 16, 2015, Individual-1, for whom Cohen worked at the time, began an ultimately successful campaign for President of the United States,” Khuzami wrote. “During the campaign, Cohen played a central role in two similar schemes to purchase the rights to stories – each from women who claimed to have had an affair with Individual-1 – so as to suppress the stories and thereby prevent them from influencing the election. With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments.”

“In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1. As a result of Cohen’s actions, neither woman spoke to the press prior to the election.”

After the election, the filing continues, Cohen sought reimbursement for $130,000 he’d paid to one of the women and $50,000 for campaign-related “tech services.” Prosecutors say “executives of the Company agreed to reimburse Cohen by adding $130,000 and $50,000, ‘grossing up’ that amount to $360,000 for tax purposes, and adding a $60,000 bonus, such that Cohen would be paid $420,000 in total.”

“Executives of the Company decided to pay the $420,000 in monthly installments of $35,000 over the course of a year,” the document continues, adding that Cohen falsely claimed the payments were legal expenses pursuant to a retainer agreement. He received the $420,000 over the course of 2017.

Khuzami acknowledged that Cohen provided information to Mueller that “was ultimately credible and useful to its ongoing investigation,” but with the SDNY office Cohen “repeatedly declined to provide full information about the scope of any additional criminal conduct in which he may have engaged or had knowledge.” Because of Cohen’s help to Mueller, Khuzami is seeking strict sentencing “acknowledging that a modest variance is appropriate.”

“Any suggestion by Cohen that his meetings with law enforcement reflect a selfless and unprompted about-face are overstated,” he added, noting Cohen reached out to Mueller only when he knew he was under threat of indictment by Khuzami’s office. Cohen “affirmatively chose not” to cooperate in the standard practice in prosecutorial deals that involves “full debriefings that encompass their entire criminal history, as well as any and all information they possess about crimes committed by both themselves and others.”

The Mueller memo addresses the crime of making false statements to Congress, to which Cohen pleaded guilty Nov. 29; that centered around efforts to open a Trump Tower in Moscow.

“In recent months, however, the defendant has taken significant steps to mitigate his criminal conduct. He chose to accept responsibility for his false statements and admit to his conduct in open court. He also has gone to significant lengths to assist the Special Counsel’s investigation,” Mueller wrote. “He has met with the SCO on seven occasions, voluntarily provided the SCO with information about his own conduct and that of others on core topics under investigation by the SCO, and committed to continuing to assist the SCO’s investigation. The information he has provided has been credible and consistent with other evidence obtained in the SCO’s ongoing investigation.”

Mueller said Cohen has sat down with the special counsel’s office for seven sessions, “many of them lengthy, and continues to make himself available to investigators.”

“His statements beginning with the second meeting with the SCO have been credible, and he has taken care not to overstate his knowledge or the role of others in the conduct under investigation,” the special counsel added.

Mueller said Cohen “provided information about his own contacts with Russian interests during the campaign and discussions with others in the course of making those contacts” and “also provided information about attempts by other Russian nationals to reach the campaign,” including a reach-out in November 2015 from an unnamed Russian official who offered the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level,” including a Trump-Putin meeting.

Cohen also was forthcoming with “useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives during the campaign.”

Mueller concluded that Cohen’s sentence “should reflect the fact that lying to federal investigators has real consequences,” particularly “in an investigation of national importance,” but “the defendant has made substantial and significant efforts to remediate his misconduct” by assisting the special counsel. Mueller recommended that Cohen be allowed to serve his sentence concurrently with the sentence in the Southern District of New York case.