By Chuck Ross
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan recommended on Friday a “substantial” prison sentence for Michael Cohen, the former Trump attorney who pleaded guilty in August to tax evasion, bank fraud, and illegal campaign contributions.
Cohen, 52, was seeking a sentence of time served in the case, citing the former Trump fixer’s substantial cooperation with investigators in New York and in the special counsel’s office.
But in their filing on Friday, prosecutors asserted that Cohen’s “pattern of deception” throughout his professional life warrants a hefty prison sentence. The government did open the door to some leniency for Cohen, writing that his sentence should “reflect a modest downward variance” from the 51 to 63 month sentence recommended by federal guidelines.
In a separate filing on Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller recommended no additional jail time for Cohen due to his assistance in the Russia probe.
Cohen entered a plea deal with federal prosecutors on Aug. 21 on charges of tax evasion and bank fraud related to his taxi medallion business. He also pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions by paying off Stormy Daniels, the porn star who alleges to have had an affair with now-President Donald Trump in 2016.
Cohen said that Trump instructed him to make a $130,000 hush payment to Daniels in October 2016.
Cohen’s attorneys argued in a court filing on Saturday that their client should receive no jail time due to his extensive cooperation with Mueller’s team and other prosecutors. They said he has met voluntarily with the special counsel seven times since August and twice with prosecutors in New York. Cohen has also met with the New York Attorney General’s office, they said.
Prosecutors in the New York case dismissed much of Cohen’s argument, however. They said that Cohen “repeatedly” declined to provide full information for their investigation while claiming that the information he provided to the attorney general’s office was already known to investigators.
While prosecutors said that Cohen did provide useful information, they cast doubt on his stated rationale for cooperating. Rather than wanting to clear his cooperating out of “personal resolve,” prosecutors asserted that Cohen began assisting investigators after learning that he was under “imminent threat of indictment.”
Cohen was also initially less than forthcoming in the Mueller probe, according to the special counsel’s filing.
In his initial meeting with the Mueller team, on Aug. 7, Cohen “repeated many of his prior false statements” about his role in trying to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the campaign.
Cohen’s initial statements matched his congressional testimony last year that he stopped pursuing the project in January 2016 and that he did not entertain the idea of either himself or Trump visiting Russia.
But Cohen pleaded guilty last Thursday to lying to Congress about aspects of his testimony on the project.
Cohen admitted in his second meeting with the special counsel, on Sept. 12, that his work on the Trump Tower project, which ultimately failed, continued through June 2016.
He also acknowledged that he made plans to visit Russia, but backed out after Trump won the GOP nomination. (RELATED: Michael Cohen Pleads Guilty In Mueller Probe To Lying To Congress)
Cohen also revealed that he had more extensive contacts with the Kremlin than he previously acknowledged. The longtime Trump fixer initially said that he sent an email to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. But he now admits that he had a 20 minute phone conversation with Peskov’s chief of staff.
Cohen has not alleged that he was instructed to lie to Congress about his involvement in the Trump Tower project. Instead, he said that he tailored his testimony to Trump and the White House’s public denials regarding links to Russia.
The Mueller filing also contains new details about the extent of Cohen’s contacts with Russians.
According to prosecutors, Cohen provided information about attempts by “other Russian nationals to reach the campaign.”
In November 2015, one Russian national who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian government said he could provide the Trump campaign with “political synergy” with Russia. The Russian national repeatedly proposed meetings between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that never materialized.
Cohen also provided the special counsel “with useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives during the campaign,” the Mueller filing states.
Whether Cohen has information about election interference remains an open question. He is a central figure in the Steele dossier, which accuses Cohen of visiting Prague in August 2016 to pay off Russia-linked hackers who stole emails from the Democratic National Committee.
Cohen had vehemently denied the dossier’s allegations, though he has not publicly commented on the matter since the end of June. But Lanny Davis, a lawyer for Cohen and close ally of the Clintons, said shortly after Cohen’s plea deal in August that the dossier’s allegations about his client are “false.”
Davis said that Cohen did not visit Prague, as the dossier alleged.
Neither of Friday’s filings refers to the allegations of collusion. And notably, the special counsel did not assert that Cohen lied in his congressional testimony when he vehemently denied the dossier’s allegations.
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