Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations involving hush payments to two women and for lying to Congress. He said Donald Trump "led me to take a path of darkness instead of light."
A court in New York handed Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer of US President Donald Trump, a three-year prison sentence for his role in making illegal hush payments to two women and lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia.
Cohen said on Wednesday that he was taking responsibility for his crimes, "including those implicating the president of the United States of America." He had told prosecutors during his guilty plea that Trump had directed him to make the hush money payments.
"It was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds," he told the court as he argued for leniency. He added that "blind loyalty" to Trump "led me to take a path of darkness instead of light."
Cohen pleaded guilty in August to charges that, just before the 2016 presidential election, he paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep them from speaking about past affairs with Trump.
In November, Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress, charges brought forward by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible Russian meddling in the US presidential election and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
One of Cohen's lawyers, Guy Petrillo, told the court Wednesday that Cohen "came forward to offer evidence against the most powerful person in the country" and said his client cooperated knowing "the president might shut down" Mueller's investigation.
Campaign finance violation
US District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan sentenced Cohen to 36 months for the payments, which violated campaign finance law, and two months for lying to Congress. The two terms will run simultaneously. Cohen was also ordered to forfeit $500,000 (€568,000) and pay restitution of nearly $1.4 million.
The three-year sentence was slightly lower than the four to five years recommended under federal guidelines. However, the sentence still stressed the seriousness of violating campaign finance laws and seeking to influence the outcome of an election.
Cohen told prosecutors that the $130,000 payment to Daniels and the $150,000 payment to McDougal were at the direction of Trump, implicating the president in a possible violation of campaign finance law.
After initially denying knowledge of the payments, Trump later said they were "a simple private transaction" and not campaign finance contributions. The president has accused Mueller of pressuring his former aides to lie about him, his campaign and his business dealings.
Cohen, who served as Trump's attorney for 12 years, was dismissed from the president's legal team in May. Months later, the FBI seized secret recordings made by Cohen where the two purportedly discussed the payment regarding McDougal, who had sold the story of her affair to American tabloid The National Enquirer.
Trump lashed out at Cohen over the tapes, claiming they were illegal. He has since badmouthed his former lawyer on social media, tweeting in August: "If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!"
dv/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)