WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors said in a new court filing that President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen should spend significant time in prison — saying that while Cohen did provide useful information to investigators probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, he refused to disclose everything he knew.
The filing was made Friday as Cohen prepares to be sentenced next week in two separate cases, one involving campaign finance violations and lying to a bank, and another in which he admitted to lying to Congress about efforts during the 2016 presidential campaign to get a Trump Tower built in Moscow.
Cohen had asked for a sentence of no prison time, citing his cooperation with investigators, but prosecutors for the Southern District of New York filed a memo arguing that he should serve substantial time, possibly years, in prison.
A separate sentencing memo filed by special counsel Robert Mueller III was somewhat kinder to Cohen, saying that while his crime was “serious,” he had “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,” they wrote.
The special counsel’s office credited Cohen with significant cooperation — including providing “useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact” with Trump organization executives during the campaign, as well as “relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017-2018 time period.”
They revealed that Cohen told them of what seemed to be a previously unknown November 2015 contact from a Russian national, who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation offering the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.”
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Cohen told investigators the person, who was not identified, repeatedly proposed a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that such a meeting could have a “phenomenal” impact, “not only in political but in a business dimension as well,” the special counsel’s office wrote.
Cohen, though, did not follow up on the invitation, because he was already working on a Trump project in Moscow through a different person he believed to have Russian government connections, the special counsel’s office wrote.
Under the federal sentencing guidelines, Cohen could face roughly five years in prison. In the filing, federal prosecutors in New York suggested he should get a modest reduction, and serve around three and a half years.
“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,” prosecutors wrote in their filing. “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.”
The filing also suggests Cohen’s cooperation with law enforcement was not so significant to the investigations swirling around the president.
“To be clear: Cohen does not have a cooperation agreement and is not ... properly described as a ‘cooperating witness,’ as that term is commonly used in this district,” the prosecutors wrote in the 38-page letter.
Perhaps most striking, prosecutors accused Cohen of holding back some of what he knew.
“This office understands that the information provided by Cohen to (Mueller) was ultimately credible and useful to its ongoing investigation,” prosecutors wrote, but said they would not give him a legal letter detailing his cooperation because “Cohen repeatedly declined to provide full information about the scope of any additional criminal conduct in which he may have engaged or had knowledge.”
Prosecutors also, for the first time, described a critical meeting leading up to Cohen’s crime of seeking to buy the silence during the 2016 presidential campaign of two women who alleged they had trysts with Trump.
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The memo identifies three people at that meeting: Cohen, “Individual 1,” and “Chairman 1.” The document elsewhere identifies Individual 1 as Trump, and people familiar with the case said Chairman 1 is David Pecker of the National Enquirer.
“In August 2014, Chairman-1 had met with Cohen and Individual-1, and had offered to help deal with negative stories about Individual-1’s relationships with women by identifying such stories so that they could be purchased and ‘killed’,” the prosecutors’ memorandum says.
Cohen was prosecuted by two separate parts of the Justice Department, Mueller’s office and federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Those offices filed separate memos Friday in preparation for Wednesday’s scheduled sentencing before U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley III.
Prosecutors repeatedly highlighted what they see as the minimal information provided by Cohen, noting that while he also met with New York state investigators and tax authorities, that cooperation “warrants little to no consideration as a mitigating factor” because Cohen told them nothing of value beyond what they would likely have gotten without his help.
The Mueller memo says Cohen “repeated many of his prior false statements” when he met with the special counsel’s office in August, and it was only in a second meeting on Sept. 12, — after he had pleaded guilty to the campaign finance charges — that he admitted “his prior statements about the Moscow Project had been deliberately false and misleading.”
The special counsel’s office wrote that Cohen’s lies to Congress “obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government,” and that, if completed, the Trump organization could have received “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues.” They noted, as Cohen had already admitted, that Cohen and Trump discussed the project “well into the campaign.”
The special counsel’s office added, though, that Cohen “has gone to significant lengths to assist the Special Counsel’s investigation.”
The special counsel’s office wrote that Cohen had “explained financial aspects of the deal that would have made it highly lucrative,” and, without prompting, he had corrected other statements he made about his contacts with Russian officials during the campaign.
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For example, Cohen said in a radio interview in September 2015 that Trump should meet with the president of Russia during the U.N. General Assembly, and claimed for a time the comment had been “spontaneous” and not discussed with members of the campaign. In fact, the special counsel’s office said, Cohen later admitted that he had conferred with Trump about contacting the Russian government for the meeting — which ultimately did not take place.
Cohen pleaded guilty in August to tax evasion, making a false statement to a bank and campaign finance violations, admitting that he helped buy the silence of two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump to aid the president’s campaign. Last month, he added a guilty plea to one count of making a false statement to Congress, admitting that he lied to lawmakers about a possible Trump business project in Russia.
In asking for a sentence of no prison time, Cohen stressed his extensive cooperation with Mueller, as well as investigators from other agencies. His lawyers linked his wrongdoing directly to Trump, writing that Cohen was motivated to pay the women to keep quiet and lie to Congress out of his “fierce loyalty” to Trump. Trump had publicly denied the affairs, and he had said he “stayed away” from business in Russia.
“He could have fought the government and continued to hold to the party line, positioning himself perhaps for a pardon or clemency, but, instead — for himself, his family, and his country — he took personal responsibility for his own wrongdoing and contributed, and is prepared to continue to contribute, to an investigation that he views as thoroughly legitimate and vital,” Cohen’s lawyers wrote in court papers submitted last week.
For his part, Trump ridiculed Cohen’s request on Twitter and seemed to contrast him with Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser who has suggested publicly he would be unwilling to cooperate against the president.
Of Cohen, Trump said, “He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.” Of Stone, he said, “Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’”