Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen gets 3 years in prison

Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, has been sentenced to three years in prison for crimes including campaign finance violations and lying to Congress.

Cohen says loyalty led him to cover up for Trump's 'dirty deeds'

Cohen called the payments part of the 'dirty deeds' he did at Trump's behest. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, has been sentenced to three years in prison for crimes including campaign finance violations and lying to Congress.

Cohen apologized for his actions and told U.S. District Judge William Pauley III that "blind loyalty" to Trump led him to "cover up his dirty deeds."

Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty to making false statements in 2017 to the Senate intelligence committee about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. He earlier pleaded guilty in August to eight separate counts, including campaign finance violations that he said he carried out at the direction of Trump. 

At that time, Cohen said he secretly used shell companies to make payments of $150,000 US and $130,000, respectively, to silence former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stormy Daniels for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election. The women have claimed they had affairs with Trump after the real estate mogul married his third wife, Melania. 

Pauley characterized Cohen's offences — which included evading $1.4 million in taxes related to his personal businesses — as a "veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct."

Cohen was sentenced to three years for the payments, and two months for lying to Congress, but the penalties will be concurrent. He was ordered to pay restitution of nearly $1.4 million and forfeit $500,000, and will pay a further $100,000 in fines.

Following his prison sentence, Cohen will have three additional years of supervised release.

He was ordered to surrender on March 6.

Trump has derided Cohen for co-operating with prosecutors, calling him a "weak person," and has downplayed the extent of their professional relationship.

Earlier this year, Cohen said he arranged hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, left, and Karen McDougal, former Playboy playmate of the year, who have both claimed they had sexual encounters with Trump. (Matt Sayles, Evan Vucci/The Associated Press, Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty for Playboy)

"Recently the president tweeted a statement calling me weak and it was correct, but for a much different reason than he was implying," Cohen said in court. "It was because time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds."

During an appearance at the White House shortly after the sentencing, Trump ignored reporters' questions about Cohen.

Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of four to five years in prison, saying he should receive some credit for his co-operation with special counsel Robert Mueller, but noted that he had not entered into a co-operation agreement with New York authorities.

Cohen's 'credible' information

Cohen's lawyer Guy Petrillo argued for more leniency, stressing that Cohen co-operated despite not knowing the future of the Mueller investigation and whether "the most powerful person in our country" would try to shut down the probe.

But during the sentencing Wednesday, Pauley said Cohen's co-operation with the Mueller probe "does not wipe the slate clean" of his crimes.

Since 2017, Mueller has been investigating allegations of co-ordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.

The two investigations were interconnected — one run by federal prosecutors in New York, the other by the special counsel.

At the sentencing hearing, a prosecutor in Mueller's office, Jeannie Rhee, said Cohen "has provided consistent and credible information about core Russia-related issues under investigation." She didn't elaborate.

Cohen was accompanied to court by his wife, daughter and son. 

Trump appeared in Moscow in October 2013 during a news conference for the Miss Universe pageant, which was run by his company. He sought to build in Moscow at various times through the years without success. (Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA)

He is among a number of people in Trump's orbit who have pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

The list also includes his former presidential campaign chair, Paul Manafort, and Manafort's colleague, Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who was released last week after serving a short prison sentence.

While Trump has mused about not being opposed to offering a presidential pardon to Manafort, Cohen's prosecution at the state level would make him ineligible for a pardon.

The president has assailed the various investigations, while Russia has denied trying to interfere in the 2016 election for the purposes of sowing discord and improving Trump's prospects.

Trump said the potential Moscow project was well documented, and he emphasized that the plan was abandoned. But the voters weren't fully aware of its existence.

On the subject of the payments, Trump insisted he only found out about them after they were made, despite the release of a September 2016 recorded conversation in which Trump and Cohen can be heard discussing a deal to pay McDougal for her story of a 2006 affair.

McDougal payment admission

Separately, prosecutors announced Wednesday that they had filled in another piece of the puzzle in the hush money case: The parent company of the National Enquirer acknowledged making the $150,000 payment to McDougal "in concert" with the Trump campaign.

Prosecutors said the McDougal payment violated federal law against corporate campaign contributions. It, along with the separate $130,000 payment to Daniels, exceeded the $2,700 limit on campaign donations. U.S. campaign contributions must be reported under law, and the two hush money payments were not disclosed.

Shortly after Cohen's sentencing, federal authorities announced a deal not to prosecute the National Enquirer's parent, American Media Inc. As part of the deal, AMI admitted making the McDougal payment to buy her silence about the alleged affair and fend off damage to Trump's candidacy.

In a court filing last week, the prosecutors left no doubt that they believe Cohen arranged the hush money payments at Trump's direction, saying the manoeuvre was part of an effort to "influence the election from the shadows."

With files from The Associated Press