NEW YORK • President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has been sentenced to three years in prison for crimes including orchestrating hush payments to women in violation of campaign laws before the 2016 election, and he promised to keep cooperating with the US government against his former boss.
Wednesday's sentence, which capped a stunning about-face by a lawyer who once vowed to "take a bullet" for Mr Trump, was handed down by a judge in New York on the same day as news that the publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid had struck a deal with prosecutors to avoid charges over its role in one of two hush payments involving Mr Trump.
The publisher admitted the payment was aimed at influencing the 2016 election, contradicting Mr Trump's statements.
The twin developments highlighted the growing political and legal risks for Mr Trump from a months-long investigation by federal prosecutors into the payments. Some legal experts said Mr Trump could be charged after leaving office. Justice Department policy is not to indict a sitting president.
"These prosecutors have charged or reached agreement with everyone involved in this process save one notable exception," said Dr Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University.
"It seems likely that this effort is directed at building a larger case against Donald Trump."
Cohen had said in a guilty plea in August that he had been directed by Mr Trump to arrange a payment to Playboy model Karen McDougal, and personally pay adult-film star Stormy Daniels. Prosecutors in New York confirmed last week in a court filing that they believed Mr Trump ordered the payments to protect his presidential campaign.
Mr Trump has denied the affairs and argues the payments to the two women were not campaign contributions. "If it were, it's only civil, and even if it's only civil, there was no violation based on what we did," Mr Trump said on Tuesday.
In the Manhattan courtroom, Cohen told US District Judge William Pauley that "blind loyalty" led him to cover up for Mr Trump. Cohen also said he was ready to provide "as much information as I truthfully possess" on the President.
"I am committed to proving my integrity and ensuring that history will not remember me as the villain of his story," Cohen said, choking up at times while giving his statement. "I am truly sorry and I promise I will be better."
Judge Pauley sentenced Cohen to three years for the payments, and unrelated crimes of tax evasion and misleading banks. He gave Cohen two months for lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia.
The judge said the two terms would run simultaneously and he set March 6 for Cohen's surrender.
While the sentence was a modest reduction from the four to five years recommended under federal guidelines, the judge described Cohen's crimes as a "smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct" marked by deception and "motivated by personal greed". He ordered Cohen to forfeit US$500,000 (S$686,00) and pay restitution of nearly US$1.4 million.
Cohen, 52, walked into court with his wife, son and daughter amid a crowd of photographers and reporters. His 23-year-old daughter, Samantha, and 19-year-old son, Jake, both wept silently in the courtroom.
Cohen's father, who helped convince his son to cooperate with prosecutors against Mr Trump, showed little emotion during the hearing but later told reporters: "My heart is ripped." REUTERS
NOT A VILLAIN
I am committed to proving my integrity and ensuring that history will not remember me as the villain of his story.
MICHAEL COHEN, US President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer.