Michael Cohen, who as President Donald Trump's personal lawyer and fixer once vowed he would "take a bullet" for his boss, was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for an array of crimes that included arranging the payment of hush money to two women that he says was done at the direction of Trump — a scandal that could damage Trump's presidency.
The sentence was in line with what federal prosecutors asked for. Sentencing guidelines called for around four to five years behind bars, and prosecutors asked in court papers that Cohen be given only a slight break. Cohen will begin serving his sentence on March 6.
U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III said Cohen deserved modest credit for his decision over the summer to admit guilt and cooperate in a federal investigation of efforts by Russians to influence the presidential election, but his assistance "does not wipe the slate clean."
He called the case a "smorgasbord of criminal conduct."
"Somewhere along the way Mr. Cohen appears to have lost his moral compass," the judge said. "As a lawyer, Mr. Cohen should have known better."
The judge also ordered Cohen to pay $1.39 million in restitution to the IRSR, forfeit $500,000 and pay $100,000 in fines. He was ordered to report to prison March 6 and left court without comment.
Moments before learning his fate, Cohen told the court he blamed himself for conduct that brought him there, according to WNBC’s Jonathan Dienst. Cohen added that “blind loyalty” to Trump was his weakness that led him astray.
"It was my blind loyalty to this man that led me to take a path of darkness instead of light," he said. "I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds."
Cohen said he takes full responsibility and called this one of the most important days of his life.
"I am truly sorry, and I promise I will be better," Cohen said in tearful remarks.
Cohen's lawyers had argued for leniency, saying he decided to cooperate with investigators rather than hold out for a possible pardon.
"He came forward to offer evidence against the most powerful person in our country," Cohen's lawyer, Guy Petrillo, told the judge during the hearing.
Before resting, Petrillo said Cohen had the misfortune of being the president's counsel and asked for "full consideration of mercy."
Jeannie Rhee of the special counsel's office said Cohen's cooperation has been helpful in the office's investigation and that he spoke the truth, highlighting for the court that value and reliability of Cohen's statements.
However, the prosecutor for the Southern District of New York said Cohen “didn’t come close” to helping their office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos said Cohen's crimes showed a "pattern of deceit, brazenness and greed."
He called for a sentence that sends a message that "even powerful, privileged individuals cannot violate these laws with impunity."
Lanny Davis, who was previously an attorney for Cohen, said in a statement that Cohen “continues to tell the truth about Donald Trump’s misconduct over the years.” He added that he will help Cohen “state publicly all he knows about Mr. Trump” after Mueller completes his probe.
“Mr. Trump's repeated lies cannot contradict stubborn facts,” Davis said, adding that he will now serve as a communications adviser to Cohen as the sentencing process is complete.
Cohen was seen leaving his New York City apartment after 9:30 in a black car after hugging family members, NBC News reported. He then walked into the courthouse with his wife and children just after 10 a.m. and did not speak to reporters before or after the sentencing.
Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty in August to evading $1.4 million in taxes related to his personal businesses. In the part of the case with greater political repercussions, he also admitted breaking campaign finance laws in arranging payments in the waning days of the 2016 election to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, both of whom said they had sexual encounters with Trump.
Cohen became the first — and so far, only — member of Trump's circle during two years of investigations to go into open court and implicate the president in a crime, though whether a president can be prosecuted is a matter of legal dispute.
Last month, Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump's business dealings in Russia. He admitted hiding the fact that he was negotiating a proposal to build a Trump skyscraper in Moscow well into the presidential campaign. He said he lied out of devotion to Trump, who had insisted during the campaign that he had no business ties whatsoever to Russia.
The sentence was the culmination of a spectacular rise and fast fall of a lawyer who attached himself to the fortunes of his biggest client, helped him get elected president, then turned on him, cooperating with two interconnected investigations: one run by federal prosecutors in New York, the other by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian efforts to influence the race for the White House.
It remains to be seen how much damage Cohen's cooperation will do to Trump. Legal experts said Cohen could get his sentence reduced if he strikes a deal with prosecutors to tell them more.
In their court filing, the prosecutors left no doubt that they believe Cohen arranged the hush-money payments at Trump's direction, saying the maneuver was part of an effort to "influence the election from the shadows."
Trump, who insists the affairs never happened, argued on Twitter that the payments to the women were "a simple private transaction," not a campaign contribution. And if it was a prohibited contribution, Trump said, Cohen is the one who should be held responsible.
"Lawyer's liability if he made a mistake, not me," Trump wrote, adding, "Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced. WITCH HUNT!"
Trump had repeatedly called for a tough sentence for Cohen, whom he labeled a liar.
Cohen has had at least seven meetings with Mueller's team, which said in court papers that Cohen provided "relevant and useful" information about attempts by Russian figures to influence Trump's campaign.
In the hush-money case, prosecutors said, Cohen arranged for the parent company of the National Enquirer to pay $150,000 to McDougal. He also paid $130,000 to Daniels and was reimbursed by Trump's business empire. Prosecutors said the McDougal payment violated federal law against corporate campaign contributions, while the money that went to Daniels exceeded the $2,700 limit on campaign donations.
After Cohen's sentencing, federal prosecutors in Manhattan revealed that they have also reached an agreement with National Enquirer parent company AMI, in which AMI admitted it made the hush-money payment at Cohen's direction. AMI will not be prosecuted as part of that deal, in exchange for what was described as its "substantial and important assistance in this investigation."
"AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election," prosecutors said.