NEW YORK — Michael D. Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer who has twice pleaded guilty to crimes that have implicated Trump in illegal or questionable conduct, asked a federal judge late Friday that he be allowed to avoid prison when he is sentenced in less than two weeks.
In a deeply personal memorandum that expressed Cohen’s contrition and shame and portrayed him as a man whose personal and professional lives had been shattered, his lawyers cited his cooperation with the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, whose legitimacy is regularly denounced by the president.
“In the context of this raw, full-bore attack by the most powerful person in the United States,” the lawyers wrote, “Michael, formerly a confidant and adviser to Mr. Trump, resolved to cooperate, and voluntarily took the first steps toward doing so even before he was charged.”
Arguing that Cohen could have fought the government, “positioning himself perhaps for a pardon or clemency,” the lawyers said he instead took personal responsibility for his wrongdoing “and is prepared to continue to contribute to an investigation that he views as thoroughly legitimate and vital.”
The lawyers, Guy Petrillo and Amy Lester, submitted their memo one day after Cohen entered a surprise guilty plea in federal court in Manhattan to a charge of lying to Congress in a case filed by Mueller, investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential ties to Trump’s campaign. In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and financial crimes in a case brought by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan. In that plea, Cohen implicated Trump in hush-money payments to two women during the 2016 campaign to conceal affairs they said they had with Trump.
Cohen, 52, is to be sentenced by Judge William H. Pauley III on Dec. 12 on the charges in both cases. The government is also expected to file a sentencing memo.
The Cohen memo offered no new revelations about alleged misconduct involving the president, but it shed new light on Cohen’s role in the various investigations being conducted into Trump and his inner circle.
He has met seven times with Mueller’s prosecutors — the first time on Aug. 7, two weeks before Cohen entered his first guilty plea — and he intends to keep making himself available when needed for additional questioning, the memo said.
It revealed that he had also met twice with federal prosecutors in Manhattan — and would continue to do so if needed — responding to their questions concerning “an ongoing investigation,” which the memo did not describe.
The memo noted that Mueller’s office is expected to provide the judge with an assessment of Cohen’s cooperation, and that the Manhattan prosecutors are to join in presenting Cohen’s assistance as a factor for the judge to consider.
The memo disclosed that Cohen also had met voluntarily with investigators from the New York attorney general’s office regarding a lawsuit it has brought against Trump and his foundation. Cohen also provided the attorney general’s office with documents concerning “a separate open inquiry,” the memo added, also offering no elaboration.
Threaded throughout the document were testimonials from people closest to Cohen — drawn from some three dozen letters which were also submitted — depicting an image of generosity that undercuts the public perceptions of him since his guilty plea. The most powerful letter was from his 83-year-old father, Maurice Cohen, a Holocaust survivor, who wrote that his son is “the oxygen in the air that I breathe.”
“I pray and beg, beg and pray that you won’t take my oxygen away from me,” the elder Cohen wrote.
One writer after another told stories of Cohen’s generosity, and his intervention to help friends and acquaintances with problems like a sick child or business difficulties, with no expectation of anything being done for him in return.
The document provides the first on-the-record glimpse of much of what has been reported to have taken place between Cohen and Trump in relation to arranging for payments made to two women who claimed to have previously had affairs with the candidate.
The memo refers to “Woman-1,” who appears to be Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who was paid by The National Enquirer for her story. The magazine, whose chief executive, David Pecker, is friends with Trump, then buried the story. The memo mentions that “Client-1,” as Trump is described throughout, did not reimburse the corporation that made the payments to her, as he had agreed to.
The memo notably depicts Cohen as an unsophisticated and flawed man who was trying to please an exacting, demanding and powerful boss — Trump.
His lawyers also said Cohen realized his guilt in lying to Congress about the duration of his involvement with the Trump Tower project he was exploring for Moscow. But they wrote that Cohen did so because he knew Trump wanted to “dismiss and minimize the merit” of the special counsel’s inquiry, and that he and his aides “were seeking to portray contact with Russian representatives in any form by Client-1, the campaign or the Trump Organization as having effectively terminated before the Iowa caucuses of Feb. 1, 2016.”
Cohen’s false statements to Congress and his assistance to Trump with the hush-money payments arose out of his “fierce loyalty” to Trump, the lawyers wrote.
“Michael regrets that his vigor in promoting Client-1’s interests in the heat of political battle led him to abandon good judgment and cross legal lines,” they added.