Imprisoned ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen asks for sentence reduction, blasts 'Barr-led' Justice Department

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen on Wednesday asked a judge to consider either reduce his three-year prison term to just one year, or to release him on a new sentence of just home confinement and community service.
  • Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to multiple financial crimes, and to violating campaign finance laws in connection with hush money payments to two women who claim to have had sexual affairs with Trump.
  • Porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal were paid to keep quiet about their allegations in the months before the 2016 presidential election.
Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen departs after testifying behind closed doors before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 26, 2019.
Carlos Barria | Reuters

President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen on Wednesday asked a judge to consider either reducing his three-year prison term to just one year, or to release him into home confinement and community service for the remainder of his existing sentence.

Cohen's filing in federal court in Manhattan also asked Judge William Pauley to order a hearing "to explore, evaluate, and quantify" the cooperation that Cohen has given federal prosecutors and investigators since pleading guilty to multiple crimes in 2018.

Cohen's lawyers suggested that the U.S. Justice Department, under the leadership of Attorney General William Barr, has not acted in "good faith" by failing to meet with Cohen since he was imprisoned, and accepting his offer of cooperation with investigations and support for a sentence reduction.

The court filing contains a Nov. 26 email from one of Cohen's lawyers, Roger Adler, to federal prosecutors in Manhattan noting their refusal to meet with Cohen.

Adler in that email says Cohen has offered prosecutors information about an ongoing criminal case against of Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump's current personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, information about the alleged financial misstatements by New York City concessions awarded to the Trump Organization, and assistance with a probe of taxi "medallions in New York and Chicago.

Adler, in another email to federal prosecutors last week, cited a New York Times article a day earlier.

That article reported that Cohen had told investigators that another lawyer for Trump, Jay Sekulow, told him in 2017 that Cohen did not need to inform Congress about key details of a proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow because the project never came to fruition. One of the crimes that Cohen pleaded guilty to was lying to Congress about details of that project.

Adler wrote that the Manhattan federal prosecutors' office "appears shockingly disinterested in investigating if Mr. Sekulow suborned perjury, and abetted obstruction of justice, at the possible behest of his client, the President of the United States."

"Why?" Adler asked.

A spokesman for Manhattan federal prosecutors declined to comment.

Sekulow and a Justice Department spokewoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cohen has been incarcerated at the federal prison camp in Otisville, New York, since May 6.

In court records filed Wednesday, Cohen noted that, "In seeking a sentence reduction (not a modification) as a first offender, [Cohen] has been (a) disbarred, (b) financially crushed, and (c) personally embarassed and humiliated."

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If he is granted a new sentence a year and a day, as his lawyers have suggested as one option, Cohen would likely be released in mid-March at the latest, due to credit for good behavior that most federal inmates receive.

Cohen, 53, was prosecuted in separate cases by special counsel Robert Mueller and by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of York.

Mueller's office has lauded Cohen for his "substantial cooperation," in particular his giving "valuable information" about links between Trump's presidential campaign and Russians."

But federal prosecutors in New York have been less complimentary, saying Cohen "didn't come anywhere close to assisting this office in an investigation."

In the Mueller case, the Manhattan resident admitted to lying to Congress about the effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

In the Southern District case, he pleaded guilty to various financial and tax crimes, a to violating campaign finance laws in connection with hush money payments to two women, porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claim to have had sexual affairs with Trump.

Cohen said he paid Daniels $130,000 and facilitated a $150,000 payment to McDougal from the publisher of The National Enquirer shortly before the 2016 presidential election to avoid them going public with their claims and damaging Trump's electoral chances. Cohen has said he arranged for the payments at the direction of Trump, who personally and through his company reimbursed Cohen for the payment to Daniels.

The president has denied having sex with either women.

A lawyer for Cohen, Lanny Davis, noted that Cohen has given "substantial assistance" to Congressional committees, Mueller's investigation, and, while in prison, to the Manhattan District Attorney's office. DA Cyrus Vance Jr.'s office is conducting an ongoing probe of Trump's business.

Cohen also has cooperated with a probe by New York State Attorney General Letitia James.

Davis said that Cohen has been a "model inmate" since he began serving his sentence.

"We question whether Attorney General [William] Barr, who thinks his role is to act as President Trump's personal attorney rather than the attorney for the American people, has interfered and influenced the decision not to credit Mr. Cohen for all his cooperation in bringing the facts out publicly about Mr. Trump's wrongdoing," Davis told CNBC.

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"We also respectfully ask the court to consider the fairness of what appears to be unjust targeting and selective prosecution of only Mr. Cohen, who took responsibility while all others in the Trump Organization, including Mr. Trump himself, seem to have escaped accountability."

Davis and Cohen's other lawyers claim that the Barr-led Justice Department did not act in "good faith" in failing to meet with Cohen after he surrendered to serve his sentence, or support his motion.

The lawyers are seeking a hearing to explore the "motivations" of the Justice Department, Davis said.

"Cohen essentially contends the Government's position represents a consistent pattern of blind Barr loyalty to President Trump, even now as Articles of Impeachment are being drawn in the House of Representatives," Davis said.