World

Cohen says he covered up Trump’s ‘dirty deeds’ as he is jailed for three years

Michael Cohen, United States President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, has been sentenced to three years in prison for his role in making illegal hush-money payments to women to help Mr Trump's 2016 election campaign.

Key points:

  • Charges included paying Stormy Daniels $130,000 and Karen McDougal $150,000
  • Prosecutors say the payments violated campaign finance laws
  • Mr Trump accused Mueller's team of pressuring his former aides to lie about him

He was also found to have lied to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia.

"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.

"I felt it was my duty to cover up his own dirty deeds," Cohen said, referring to Mr Trump.

US District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan sentenced Mr Cohen to 36 months for the payments, which violated campaign finance law, and to two months for the false statements to Congress.

The two terms will run simultaneously. The judge set March 6 for Cohen's voluntary surrender.

The sentencing capped a stunning about-face by a lawyer who once said he would "take a bullet" for Mr Trump, but has now implicated the Republican President in criminal conduct.

Cohen said in his guilty plea in August he was directed by Mr Trump to make hush-money payments to two women who said they had sexual affairs with Mr Trump in the past.

Mr Trump has denied the affairs and any involvement in the payments.

Cohen, 52, walked into court on Wednesday morning (local time) with his wife, son and daughter amid a crowd of photographers and reporters.

His family members cried in the courtroom following the sentencing.

"While Mr Cohen pledges to help in further investigations, that is not something the court can consider now," Judge Pauley said.

Federal prosecutors in New York said that Cohen, just before the November 2016 election, paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels $US130,000 ($180,000) and helped arrange a $US150,000 ($208,000) payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal so the women would keep quiet.

Federal law requires that the contribution of "anything of value" to a campaign must be disclosed, and an individual donation cannot exceed $US2,700 ($3,700).

Threat to Trump presidency increasing

Donald Trump smiles with Michael Cohen in the background

The three-year sentence was a modest reduction from the four to five years recommended under federal guidelines, but still underscored the seriousness of the charges of violating campaign finance laws and seeking to influence the outcome of an election.

As part of the sentence, the judge ordered Cohen to forfeit $US500,000 ($692,000) and pay restitution of nearly $US1.4 million ($1.9 million).

Cohen pleaded guilty in August to charges including tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations in a case brought by federal prosecutors in New York.

Cohen was sentenced on a separate charge of lying to Congress brought by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia's role in the 2016 election and possible coordination between Mr Trump's campaign and Moscow.

Cohen pleaded guilty to that charge last month.

The ongoing Mueller investigation represents a threat to Mr Trump's presidency.

Mr Mueller, who also is examining whether the President has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe, has secured guilty pleas from several former Trump aides including his former campaign chairman and national security adviser, as well as a series of Russia individuals and entities.

More to come.

Reuters/ABC

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