US president Donald Trump's one-time fixer and former personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison.
At a hearing in the southern district of New York on Wednesday , Cohen was ordered to report to federal prison on March 6th, and was instructed to spend the remaining months of freedom with his family.
It is the first time someone who had recently been in Mr Trump’s inner circle has been given a prison sentence.
Cohen was found guilty of several financial crimes and charges related to the 2016 presidential campaign, including tax evasion, paying for the silence of women alleged to have had affairs with Mr Trump, and lying to Congress.
Cohen had claimed Mr Trump ordered the payments to the women, which violated campaign finance laws.
Cohen’s lawyers, who had asked that their client receive no jail time, argued that Cohen’s misdeeds were a reflection of his “fierce loyalty” to Mr Trump. They also pointed to his co-operation with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
Cohen pleaded guilty last month to making false statements to Congress about the timeline surrounding negotiations about a proposed Trump hotel in Moscow.
US district court judge William Pauley, however, sentenced Cohen to 36 months for the payments and to two months for the false statements to Congress. The two terms will run simultaneously.
“While Mr Cohen is taking steps to mitigate his criminal conduct by pleading guilty and volunteering useful information to prosecutors, that does not wipe the slate clean,” the judge said.
In an emotional statement to the court, Cohen said he took "full responsibility" for his crimes, but pointed to his misplaced loyalty to Donald Trump. "My own weakness was blind loyalty to the man that caused me to choose the path of darkness," he said.
Pointing to a recent tweet by Mr Trump which described Cohen as “weak”, Cohen said that the president was correct in that “time and again I felt that it was my duty to cover his dirty deeds”.
Cohen, who arrived to court with his wife and two children, did not make any comment as he left.
‘Take a bullet’
The 52-year-old lawyer worked for Mr Trump for about a decade, famously once saying that he would “take a bullet” for his boss. But in April, the FBI conducted raids of his home, office and a hotel room where he was staying. On the back of those raids, in August he pleaded guilty to eight felonies, including fraud, tax evasion and illegal campaign financing.
This included the allegation that he paid money to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal ahead of the November 2016 vote, a move that would equate to illegally influencing an election.
Although many of Cohen’s crimes were financial and unrelated to Mr Trump’s presidency, it was Mr Mueller who referred Cohen to prosecutors in New York as the special counsel investigated his interactions with Mr Trump as part of the Russia inquiry.
Speaking outside the court, Michael Avenatti, lawyer for Stormy Daniels, said that Cohen deserved every day he has to serve in prison. “Michael Cohen is no hero, is no patriot,” he said.
“His choice, time and time again, was to degrade my client, seek to intimidate her, call her and me liars and seek to degrade the office of the presidency of the United States.”
Mr Trump has denied any collusion with Russia in the 2016 vote and has accused Mr Mueller’s team of pressuring his former aides to lie about him, his campaign and his business dealings. Russia has denied US allegations of interfering in the election to help Mr Trump.
Mr Trump had called for a tough sentence for Cohen, whom he labelled a liar. Additional reporting – Reuters/PA