WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — Michael Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison.
WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — Now that Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former attorney, has pleaded guilty to federal charges, special counsel Robert Mueller wants to see him do jail time, despite Cohen's initial cooperation.
The counsel's office made its opinion clear in the sentencing memo it sent to the federal district court's Southern District of New York on Friday. It acknowledged Cohen's assistance in the ongoing probe, but made sure to note he was not considered a "traditional cooperating witness" due to his unwillingness to fully cooperate.
"For these reasons, the Office respectfully requests that this Court impose a substantial term of imprisonment," said the memorandum, "one that reflects a modest downward variance from the applicable Guidelines range."
The memo argued federal guidelines state Cohen should face between 51 and 63 months in prison. That's a substantial amount of time compared to other recommendations Mueller has made. The special counsel's office didn't recommend any jail time for Mike Flynn, Trump's disgraced former national security adviser. It recommended only six months for former campaign aide George Papadopoulos.
"If they don't believe that Mr. Cohen has been terribly helpful in identifying more culpable individuals, then they have no reason to moderate the sentence from what they thought it should have been in the first place."
Judge William Pauley will have the ultimate say on how much jail time Cohen sees, if any. Pauley is known to be tough but fair, according Elie Honig, a lawyer who has experience presenting cases before Pauley.
"Judge Pauley can show mercy to a truly unfortunate or disadvantaged defendant, but he does not usually take kindly to abuse of power," said Honig in an op-ed for CNN.
There's a very specific reason why judges like Pauley tend to be strict in these kinds of situations, according to Georgetown University law professor David Super.
"In general, these are regarded as serious crimes," said Super in an interview with Circa. "In addition, there's a tendency to want to punish things more severely that are hard to detect so that people don't feel the urge to take their chances on not getting caught."
Cohen's crimes include tax evasion, false statements to a financial institution, illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements to Congress. Campaign violations are something courts will often punish severely, according to Super, due to the simple fact that their effects are hard to reverse.
It also appears Mueller did not believe Cohen was particularly forthcoming in his cooperation, according to the memo. In fact, it specifically states the special counsel's office does not consider him a cooperating witness.
"If they don't believe that Mr. Cohen has been terribly helpful in identifying more culpable individuals, then they have no reason to moderate the sentence from what they thought it should have been in the first place," said Super.
Prosecutors arrange plea agreements with suspects if they believe they can serve as a witness against someone who may be a larger target. Gangster movies are chock full of examples of low-level thugs giving up the mob boss. In this case, Mueller may have been seeking higher-ranking officials in the Trump campaign or organization. If a potential cooperating witness isn't giving up the big guys, there wouldn't be much point in giving them a plea agreement.
"They don't want the cooperating witness to be picking and choosing who they are throwing under the bus," explained Super.