Cohen signals closer cooperation in bid to stem prison term
NEW YORK — With jail looming, Michael Cohen now says he’s in “constant contact” with federal prosecutors in New York, providing them with information in an attempt to get his sentence reduced.
If true, that would be a big turnaround from three months ago, when prosecutors told a judge that President Donald Trump’s estranged ex-lawyer deserved hardly any credit for the information he’d given law enforcement. Back then, prosecutors said Cohen was exaggerating his helpfulness while keeping his mouth shut about some subjects.
Cohen told members of a House committee during hours of testimony Wednesday that he couldn’t discuss details of the work he was doing with prosecutors, but he dropped several tantalizing hints.
When U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat, asked Cohen if he was aware of “any other wrongdoing or illegal act regarding Donald Trump” that hadn’t been discussed at the hearing, Cohen said “yes,” but he couldn’t talk about it.
“Those are part of the investigation that’s currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York,” he said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan declined to comment, but it has already revealed in court filings that it has an ongoing investigation into potential campaign finance violations. It has also subpoenaed the committee that raised $107 million to stage Trump’s inaugural events.
Cohen hinted there were other probes that hadn’t yet been disclosed.
At one point, Krishnamoorthi asked Cohen to describe the last communication he had with Trump or “someone acting on his behalf.”
Cohen said that last communication happened within two months of the FBI raiding his home and office in April 2018, but he couldn’t talk about what was said.
“Unfortunately, this topic is actually something that’s being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York,” Cohen responded, “and I’ve been asked by them not to discuss it.”
Cohen was one of Trump’s closest advisers before he pleaded guilty to tax crimes, fraud, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations. Cohen’s lawyers had touted his cooperation with investigators before he was sentenced to three years in prison in December. But at that time prosecutors pushed back.
Cohen, they said in a scathing court filing, did not deserve to be called a “cooperating witness,” even after he admitted to a host of financial crimes and implicated the president in coordinating payments to two women who were threatening to talk publicly about their affairs with Trump.
He had refused to discuss certain subjects of interest to investigators, they said, or to give them a full debriefing on any criminal acts he may have committed in the past.
But on Wednesday, Cohen said he’s hoping through his continued cooperation to persuade prosecutors to file a so-called Rule 35 motion, an unusual court filing in which prosecutors ask a judge to reduce someone’s sentence for providing “substantial assistance” in a criminal investigation.
“If those investigations become fruitful, then there is a possibility for a Rule 35 motion,” Cohen told the committee.
Under Southern District of New York guidelines, Cohen’s chances of having his sentence reduced depend on his willingness to submit to debriefings he eschewed before sentencing, said Jennifer Rodgers, a former prosecutor in the district who now lectures at Columbia Law School.
“The question for the Southern District now is whether they’ll stick to their normal procedures of requiring cooperators to do that,” Rodgers said. “It’s not a hard and fast rule from the Justice Department but rather a practice of the Southern District.”
Cohen’s testimony was also followed closely by state prosecutors in New York. Delaney Kempner, a spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Letitia James, said the office was “reviewing Michael Cohen’s testimony carefully to determine if it will impact any ongoing proceeding or investigation that the office is undertaking.”
Cohen has met with the New York attorney general’s office regarding its investigation into Trump’s charitable foundation, provided the office with documents “concerning a separate open inquiry,” and cooperated with requests from the state’s tax department, his attorneys said in court filing before his December sentencing.
A few more clues about what prosecutors might have on their radar could come when a court, sometime in the coming weeks, releases documents related to the searchers on Cohen’s home and office in April.
Federal prosecutors filed court papers Thursday identifying portions of search warrants they say should be blacked out when they are made public.