Michael Cohen, by Turns Lawyer and Witness, Becomes an Inmate
Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer, must report to federal prison on Monday to begin a three-year sentence. He pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance violations, tax evasion and other crimes.
May 6, 2019
By Maggie Haberman, Ben Protess and William K. Rashbaum - NYTimes
He spoke eight times with Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators, appeared before three congressional committees and helped federal prosecutors with at least two criminal inquiries into President Trump’s inner circle. But on Monday, perhaps the most important number in Michael D. Cohen’s life will be 1,095: the number of days in a three-year prison term.
Mr. Cohen, the president’s former fixer and current antagonist, must report to the federal prison in Otisville, N.Y., where he is to begin serving his sentence for campaign finance violations, tax evasion and other crimes. He pleaded guilty last year to arranging a hush money scheme in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign, involving two women who said they had had affairs with Mr. Trump.
Mr. Cohen spoke briefly with reporters outside his residence at Trump Park Avenue in Manhattan on Monday morning.
“I hope that when I rejoin my family and friends, that the country will be in a place without xenophobia, injustice and lies at the helm of our country,” he said before ducking into a black SUV for the two-hour drive to Otisville. “There still remains much to be told, and I look forward to the day that I can share the truth.”
Mr. Cohen, who implicated the president in the scheme, was among the earliest subjects of Mr. Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Although the special counsel’s office ultimately handed over the Cohen investigation to federal prosecutors in Manhattan, Mr. Cohen was a central figure in Mr. Mueller’s report, which named him more than 800 times.
But Mr. Cohen’s sentence has also become something of a symbol of what the special counsel’s report did not do: directly accuse the president of a crime.
As Mr. Cohen heads to prison, the president is newly emboldened and the nation divided over whether the report let Mr. Trump off the hook. And unless the president or any of his family members face charges in the years to come, Mr. Cohen, a former personal injury lawyer with a hangdog expression and a Long Island accent, may go down as an unlikely big fish caught in the net of Trump World investigations.
Of the half-dozen people sentenced in those investigations, Mr. Cohen has received one of the longest prison terms, second only to Paul J. Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman.
Mr. Cohen spent his last weekend of freedom with his family — and his last months unspooling the lurid story of his decade working at the Trump Organization, providing Congress and law enforcement a road map for possible further investigation. He also helped the prosecutors in Manhattan with their investigation into the Trump inaugural committee.
Mr. Cohen’s cooperation served a dual purpose: It was a parting shot at the president and an opportunity for Mr. Cohen’s lawyers, citing his assistance, to ask that the prosecutors petition the judge for a reduced sentence.
But the prosecutors have not agreed to it, according to people briefed on the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations were private. Although the prosecutors may again meet with Mr. Cohen about ongoing investigations, the people said, his hope that they would support a reduced sentence has all but vanished.
Mr. Cohen declined to pursue a formal cooperation agreement with the Manhattan federal prosecutors, which would have required him to disclose any crimes he may have committed or been aware of. That decision most likely contributed to the length of his sentence; his lawyer had argued for no prison time.
As it became clear in recent weeks that prison was unavoidable, Mr. Cohen shifted gears, moving to postpone his start date as long as possible. Mr. Cohen, who was sentenced in December, received a two-month delay to testify before Congress and recover from shoulder surgery. Last month, his lawyers asked congressional Democrats to seek another delay so he could help them sift through millions of his documents. Members of Congress declined the request.
Still, Mr. Cohen may be able to shave a few months off his sentence if prison officials determine that he has displayed good behavior while locked up. Mr. Cohen was also assigned to the prison he requested: the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, about 75 miles northwest of New York City.
The minimum-security camp there is appealing to Mr. Cohen for several reasons, including its proximity to his family in New York. It also offers a personal comfort for Mr. Cohen, the son of a Holocaust survivor, that is rare in the federal prison system: dozens of other Jewish inmates, as well as religious classes and weekly Shabbat services.
Mr. Cohen will not be the only boldfaced name at the prison, which appeals to white-collar defendants of all religions who live in the New York area. Mike Sorrentino, who is known as The Situation and appeared in the MTV reality series “Jersey Shore,” is serving time there for tax evasion.
Mr. Cohen, who started working for the Trump Organization in 2007, first caught the real estate developer’s eye when he helped tamp down an uprising within the co-op board at a Trump property in Manhattan. He spent the next decade serving as his boss’s pit bull and mop-up man, handling personal issues for Mr. Trump and attacking reporters at his behest.
As congressional investigators and Mr. Mueller began encircling the president and those in his orbit, Mr. Cohen said publicly that he would “take a bullet” for Mr. Trump. But an F.B.I. raid on Mr. Cohen’s office, home and hotel room in April 2018 placed new strain on their relationship.
At that point, Mr. Cohen’s lawyer says, Mr. Trump’s lawyers “dangled” the possibility of a pardon; the president’s lawyers insist that they did not.
By early July, Mr. Cohen was revising his Twitter biography to remove any mention of his work for Mr. Trump, and telling ABC News that his first duty was to his family and his country.
In August, Mr. Cohen had two days to decide whether to plead guilty or challenge an indictment that prosecutors had threatened to bring, according to people briefed on the matter. He faced the possibility that his wife, who had co-signed his tax returns, would be indicted along with him.
Despite pointing the finger at the president and the Trump family company when he chose to plead guilty — and even though prosecutors later confirmed that Mr. Cohen acted “in coordination with and at the direction of” Mr. Trump — he is the only person involved in the hush money scheme who has faced charges. (Under Justice Department rules, a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime.)