By Chuck Ross
Lawyers for Michael Cohen on Friday argued that the former Trump attorney should not face jail time, citing his extensive cooperation with the special counsel’s office and federal prosecutors in Manhattan.
Cohen’s attorneys argued in a late-night court filing that the longtime Trump booster lied to Congress in order to remain consistent with his former boss’s downplaying of contacts with Russia during the campaign. They also asserted that Cohen orchestrated illegal campaign contributions in the form of payments to alleged Trump mistresses in order to protect the former real estate mogul.
The thrust of Cohen’s argument for leniency is his extensive cooperation in the “unique” circumstances in which the special counsel’s investigation is operating.
Cohen’s lawyers, Guy Petrillo and Amy Lester, asserted that Cohen’s cooperation has helped legitimize an investigation that is under constant attack by Trump. They also argue that Cohen is cooperating even though Trump has reportedly suggested in private that he is willing to pardon associates ensnared in the special counsel’s probe.
Trump responded to Cohen’s plea deal on Thursday, calling his former lawyer a “weak person” who is angling for a light jail sentence.
“He’s lying about a project that everybody knew about,” Trump told reporters.
Cohen pleaded guilty in the special counsel’s investigation on Thursday to one charge of lying to Congress about the extent of his work to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. He pleaded guilty on Aug. 21 in an investigation in New York to tax evasion and making illegal campaign contributions. Cohen made the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, the porn star who claims she had an affair with Trump in 2006.
Petrillo and Lester argued that Cohen’s tax evasion was unsophisticated. They listed several celebrities in Friday’s filing who they claim avoided paying taxes in the same manner as Cohen who avoided jail time.
Cohen avoided paying $1.4 million in taxes on $4 million in income from his taxi medallion businesses.
“It is respectfully submitted that a sentence of time-served would be well warranted in this case,” argue Petrillo and Lester, noting that Cohen spent time in federal custody in the hours and minutes prior to his court appearances to enter guilty pleas.
The court filing provides new insight into the extent of Cohen’s cooperation with the special counsel and other investigators.
He has met voluntarily seven times with the special counsel and twice with prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. He has also met with the New York Attorney General, which is investigating the Donald Trump Foundation.
Cohen’s charge for lying to Congress was “based in part on information that he voluntarily provided” to the special counsel in meetings in which Cohen had received limited-use immunity, his lawyers say.
Cohen testified to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that he ended his attempts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow in January 2016, before the Iowa caucuses. He also claimed that he made one unsuccessful effort to reach out to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Cohen now says that he continued pursuing the Moscow deal through June 2016. He also acknowledges that he spoke to an assistant of Peskov’s for 20 minutes by phone about the project.
Cohen does not claim that he was instructed by Trump to lie to Congress. He instead suggests that he lied because of his loyalty to Trump and to “advance [Trump’s] political messaging.”
His lawyers note in Friday’s filing that at the time of his congressional testimony, Cohen “remained in close and regular contact” with White House staff and Trump’s lawyers.
Cohen’s lawyers also claim that Cohen kept Trump “apprised” of his communications concerning the Moscow project. It is not clear from the filing if Cohen claims that he told Trump about the outreach to Peskov and contact with the Kremlin.
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