Michael Cohen’s sentencing hearing was a spectacle, with all of the attendant soaring rhetoric, talk of democracy, and tears.
The star of the affair—which was held in lower Manhattan’s Daniel Patrick Moynihan courthouse—was Cohen himself, who took the floor for a five-minute, tearful address to the court.
Apologizing to his family, the judge, and “the people of the United States,” Cohen lamented his career as a “loyal soldier to the president” and that “time and time again I felt it was my duty to carry out his dirty deeds.”
“It was my own weakness and blind loyalty to this man that led me to choose a path of darkness over light,” Cohen said.
But as Cohen’s defense lawyers, special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, and the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office agreed, this case wasn’t just about the conduct of one Long Island-born lawyer. It was about misdeeds by President Donald Trump, about free and fair elections, about lawyers following the law, paying the taxes that fund our system of government, and lying to investigators probing matters of national importance.
When handing down a sentence of three years imprisonment and close to $1.6 million in fines, U.S. District Judge William Pauley said: “A significant term of imprisonment is fully justified in this highly publicized case to send a message.”
Cohen’s 83-year-old father, a wheelchair-bound Holocaust survivor and retired doctor, buried his head in his hands as the sentence was announced. Maurice Cohen sat at the end of row packed with other black fur-and-lace clad family members and friends of Cohen, including his wife Laura Shusterman and their two children, who escorted him into the courtroom.
Cohen’s attorney, Guy Petrillo, asked that his client be allowed to surrender voluntarily, and Pauley suggested a date of March 6, 2019.
This brief, businesslike conclusion to the day’s events came after the government and Cohen’s attorney’s made impassioned pleas to Pauley to heed their arguments.
On one side was Petrillo, who stressed Cohen’s “courage” in cooperating with Mueller given the possibility that Trump could have come in and shut the entire probe down.
“He came forward to offer evidence against the most powerful person in our country” in a probe “of utmost national significance, no less than that seen 40 years ago in the throes of Watergate,” Petrillo said.
Praising Cohen’s family ties and charitable works, Petrillo criticized the “somewhat sharp” sentencing memo the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office filed criticizing his client for neglecting to enter a traditional full cooperation agreement and instead requesting that he be sentenced immediately.
Repeatedly, Petrillo called the office’s treatment of Cohen “unfair.”
“They want to make a bigger case than they’ve already made,” Petrillo said, insisting that other defendants would be treated differently for these kind of white-collar crimes. “God bless ’em. And maybe a little bit of pride here about not being at the center of attention. Who knows.”
Jeannie Rhee of Mueller’s office then took the podium to repeat that Cohen did commit a “serious criminal violation,” lying not only to Congress but also, initially, to the special counsel, about his work developing a Trump Tower in Moscow. But she said that after lying at his first proffer session in July, Cohen has been fully cooperative with her team ever since.
Nicholas Roos, of the U.S. Attorney’s office, fired back at Petrillo in his own remarks, countering that “the unfairness here is not to Mr. Cohen. It’s to the public.”
Agreeing he deserved credit for his cooperation with the special counsel, Roos repeated that Cohen’s misdeeds came at a “tremendous societal cost” and that he should be punished accordingly.
Pauley, a by-the-books, no-nonsense judge, offered little in the way of theatrics. He echoed the stance of U.S. attorney’s office: Cohen’s crimes are serious, his cooperation was and is critical, and he needs to be offered up as an example and a deterrent.
Cohen’s “smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct” was not just “motivated by personal greed and ambition,” but had “broader public consequences,” Pauley said.
The proceedings, which lasted a little over an hour, lacked some of the circus-like atmosphere of Cohen’s prior court appearances. Cohen made no cracks about having a belt of scotch the evening before; there were no adult film stars in the audience.
It was a more funereal, somber affair. Along with his parents and immediate family, Cohen’s mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother, sister, niece and cousins were in attendance.
Also present were U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Robert Khuzami, three members of Mueller’s team, four prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York, two FBI agents, and dozens of reporters and spectators. In the back row sat Cohen’s former foe Michael Avenatti, who cracked to the press on his way into the building that he was “just out for a holiday stroll.”
The proceeding concluded with Pauley informing Cohen he had a right to appeal, praising Petrillo’s “superb” representation in the case, and bidding the attendees a good afternoon. The crowd dispersed, and Cohen and his family departed through the main entrance on Worth Street, piling into an SUV as cameras clicked, and drove away.