Trump's ex-lawyer Michael Cohen asks to avoid prison time after plea deal in Mueller probe

Key Points
  • Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, is asking to forego prison time at his upcoming sentencing.
  • Lawyers for Cohen argue that Cohen is taking responsibility for his past crimes by fully cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
  • The lawyers also say Cohen has met with New York officials investigating fraud allegations against Trump.
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 29: Michael Cohen (L), former personal attorney to President Donald Trump, exits federal court, November 29, 2018 in New York City. 
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney who sent shock-waves through Washington this week with a guilty plea over lying to Congress about Trump's 2016 efforts to build a tower in Russia, is hoping to avoid prison time.

With a sentencing hearing looming on the horizon, Cohen's legal team filed a memorandum Friday night in a lower Manhattan court. His team is arguing that Cohen took responsibility for his past crimes by fully cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

According to the legal filing, Cohen says that he informed Trump about a conversation he had with the Kremlin, seeking help to build a skyscraper in Moscow in 2016 during the U.S. presidential campaign.

Since August, the New York lawyer has pleaded guilty twice on charges related to campaign-finance crimes, and on Thursday copped to lying to Congress about Trump's dealings with Russia. Mueller is also looking into potential coordination between Trump campaign-related figures and Russia, as well as possible obstruction of justice.

Cohen's lawyers say the president's former personal lawyer has met with New York state officials who are also probing Trump. The Department of Taxation and Finance is investigating fraud allegations against Trump, and the NY attorney general's office has filed a lawsuit against Trump and his charitable foundation.

Cohen has reportedly met with Mueller's team seven times for interviews that total more than 70 hours of participation — a commitment that his attorneys say speaks to his "fortitude and fundamental character" as he seeks to "re-point his internal compass true north toward a productive, ethical and thoroughly law abiding life."

His team also argued that the 52-year-old has been forced to "begin his life virtually anew" in the wake of FBI raids on his office and residence in April. His "greatest punishment," the lawyers write, has been the "shame and anxiety he feels daily from having subjected his family to the fallout from his case."

Cohen's decision to cooperate required "singular determination and personal conviction," the attorneys said, in light of Trump's "raw, full-bore attack by the most powerful person in the United States" on the special counsel.

"Michael is cooperating in a setting in which the legitimacy of the [Russia probe] – and the rationale for its very existence – is regularly questioned publicly and stridently by the President of the United States," they said, citing Trump's numerous tweets and public statements blasting Mueller and the probe.

The memo linked Cohen's crimes to Trump, a client to whom Cohen was once intensely loyal. It said Cohen "acted on his client's instructions" when he was involved in making hush-money payments in 2016 to two women who allege they had had affairs with Trump years before he ran for president.

Cohen took those actions, the memo said, to stop the women "from disseminating narratives that would adversely affect" Trump's presidential campaign and "cause personal embarrassment to [Trump] and his family."

The White House has denied the allegations of extramarital affairs.

On Thursday, Cohen pleaded guilty to one charge of lying to congressional committees about plans for a Trump Tower development in Moscow. Among other claims, the special counsel says Cohen falsely told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Moscow proposal "ended in January 2016 and was not discussed extensively with others" in the Trump Organization.

Mueller's team wrote in a court document that Cohen had discussed the Moscow project with another individual as late as about June 2016, and briefed Trump on it more times than he had claimed to the Senate committee, the special counsel wrote. Mueller's team adds that Cohen "briefed family members of [Trump] within the Company about the project."

Cohen is set to be sentenced on Dec. 12 by Judge William Pauley in federal court in the Southern District of New York.

--Reuters contributed to this article.

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