Michel Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer and fixer, said he was taking full responsibility for all of his actions when he testified before Congress, but he reportedly claimed he was innocent of some of the charges he pleaded guilty to in a private phone conversation with comedian Tom Arnold.
“There is no tax evasion,” Cohen told the "True Lies" actor in a March 25 phone call, according to The Wall Street Journal reported. The paper said Arnold taped the conversation and gave the paper the recording, in which Cohen also denied the bank fraud charges he pleaded guilty to. "It's a lie," he said.
Cohen told Arnold he copped a plea with federal prosecutors because “they had me on campaign finance” for covering up hush money payments for two women who claimed they had affairs with his former boss, Donald Trump. Trump has denied he had affairs with the women, former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels.
Cohen — who is supposed to begin serving a three-year prison sentence for his crimes next month — told Arnold in the recording that he'd gotten a raw deal, The Wall Street Journal reported.
"I’m a man all alone, right, and I shouldn’t be alone anymore," he said in the recording, according to the paper, noting that he cooperated with prosecutors and Congress.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
"You would think that you would have folks, you know, stepping up and saying, ‘You know what, this guy’s lost everything. I mean everything.’ My family’s happiness, my law license. I lost my business, everything, my insurance, my bank accounts, all for what? All for what? Because Trump, you know, had an affair with a porn star? That’s really what this is about," he groused, according to the paper.
Cohen also reportedly told Arnold he took the deal because he was worried his wife could face legal exposure if he didn't.
"I love this woman. I am not going to let her get dragged into the mud of this crap. And I never thought the judge was going to throw a three year fricking sentence," he said, according to the paper.
The judge who sentenced Cohen did cut him slack for his cooperation — federal sentencing guidelines had called for him to get between 4 years and 3 months to 5 years and 3 months.
In their sentencing memorandum, prosecutors said Cohen was pleading guilty because he was guilty.
They noted that Cohen did not inform his accountant of $2.4 million in interests payments made to accounts in his or his wife's name from 2012-2016 from a loan he made to a taxi operator. Prosecutors say Cohen never provided statements for that and other income to his tax preparer in what they described as an intentional effort to avoid paying income tax.
The bank fraud charge stemmed from a home loan where Cohen had told the bank he had a negative net worth, and then updated his financial statement to say he had a net worth of $17 million after investigators executed search warrants at his home and office.
Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis said Cohen's statements were in line with what his client had said previously, and touted that the Mueller report had found Cohen to be a "credible" witness.
"Nothing said by Mr. Cohen to Tom Arnold contradicts Mr. Cohen’s previous defense attorney, Guy Petrillo, in his sentencing memorandum to the presiding federal US District Court Judge William H. Pauley III back in December. I would also add the important words used by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and others, in describing Michael Cohen’s cooperation and testimony as “credible” addressing the 'core' issues involved in his investigation," Davis said.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani tweeted that the story was a continuation of Cohen's "many deceptions."
Tom Winter is a New York-based correspondent covering crime, courts, terrorism and financial fraud on the East Coast for the NBC News Investigative Unit.
Dareh Gregorian is a politics reporter for NBC News.