On Wednesday, Judge William H. Pauley III sentenced Cohen to three years in prison for tax evasion, bank fraud, lying to Congress, and orchestrating hush-money payments to Donald Trump’s (alleged) former lovers, in defiance of campaign-finance law.
That last count has, understandably, generated the most public interest. In August, Cohen confessed to paying $130,000 to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, in order to keep her from revealing the details of her affair with Trump during the closing weeks of the 2016 campaign, and thus, damaging his bid for the presidency. Cohen further confessed to arranging a $150,000 payment by American Media, Inc. to another one of the president’s alleged paramours, Playboy playmate, Karen McDougal, in the summer of 2016. Since both of these payments were motivated by a desire to aid Trump politically (according to Cohen), they qualified as illegally large and undisclosed in-kind contributions to the Trump campaign.
In its sentencing recommendation for Cohen, federal prosecutors noted that he had “admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1” — the prosecution’s code name for Donald Trump.
After initially denying any knowledge of the payments, Trump now insists that they were “a simple private transaction” — and that even if they weren’t, committing a campaign-finance violation isn’t a crime, but only a civil offense (it’s actually a crime).
Cohen also confessed to lying to Congress about Trump’s pursuit of a Trump Tower in Moscow during his presidential campaign.
While Cohen pleaded guilty, and provided prosecutors with information — including testimony that implicates the president in a federal crime — he did not formally cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Which is to say: He refused to fully discuss any and all crimes that he’d committed in the past, or that he was aware of others committing. This unwillingness to tell prosecutors everything he knew likely cost Cohen his freedom. Although Special Counsel Robert Mueller recommended Cohen receive some credit for having “gone to significant lengths to assist” the investigation into Russian interference, prosecutors with the Southern District of New York characterized him as greedy and deceitful, and recommended a prison sentence of four years.
“Today is one of the most meaningful days of my life. The irony is that today I get my freedom back,” Cohen told the court on Wednesday. “Blind loyalty to this man [Trump] led me to choose a path of darkness over light.”