U.S. President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer was sentenced to three years in prison on December 12 after pleading guilty to tax and bank fraud and campaign finance charges that potentially could implicate Trump himself.
In a related matter that further deepened Trump's legal problems, the publisher of a mass-market tabloid admitted it had cooperated with Trump's 2016 election campaign to prevent a woman from going public with her claim that she had an affair with Trump.
Michael Cohen's sentencing came after he admitted that he lied to Congress about Trump's past business dealings in Russia, as well as his involvement in so-called "hush money" payments to women who claimed they had affairs with Trump.
U.S. District Judge William Pauley sentenced Cohen to 36 months for the payments, which violated campaign finance law, and to two months for making false statements to Congress. The two terms will run simultaneously.
Pauley set March 6 for Cohen's voluntary surrender.
Cohen, 52, worked for years as Trump's personal lawyer and "fixer," helping to resolve thorny business issues for the real estate tycoon, and he once said he would "take a bullet" for Trump.
Cohen's home and office were raided in March by investigators, who seized reams of documents, computer servers, and other files.
"It was my own weakness and a blind loyalty to this man that led me to choose a path of darkness over light," Cohen told the judge during the sentencing hearing.
U.S. prosecutors have said in earlier court filings that Cohen failed to fully cooperate with investigators, and they were seeking a "substantial" jail term.
Cohen’s case focused on the work he did while employed by Trump's business organization.
The payments Cohen made occurred during the 2016 campaign, which were allegedly reimbursed by Trump, could be considered campaign contributions. In court filings, prosecutors have alleged those contributions exceeded the legal limit and that they weren't reported publicly, something that could be considered a felony crime.
Just hours after Cohen's sentencing hearing, federal prosecutors announced they had granted immunity to the publisher of the National Enquirer, American Media Inc., known as AMI.
"As a part of the agreement, AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate's presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election," the U.S. Attorney's Office for Manhattan said in a statement.
The case against Cohen grew out of the investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into interactions between Russian officials and Trump associates.
Trump has repeatedly denied any suggestions that his campaign coordinated with Russian officials during the 2016 election campaign. He has accused Mueller's team of pressuring his former aides to lie about him, his campaign, and his business dealings.
Neither Trump nor the White House responded to news of Cohen's plea, and Trump ignored questions from reporters at a White House event.
In an interview on December 11, however, he said he was confident he was not in danger of being impeached by Congress.
"It's hard to impeach somebody who hasn't done anything wrong and who's created the greatest economy in the history of our country," Trump told Reuters in an Oval Office interview.
Russia has denied U.S. allegations of interfering in the election to help Trump.