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Trump says he wants ex-lawyer Michael Cohen to serve 'full and complete' prison sentence

Trump said that Cohen was trying to get off "Scott Free" for the felony counts he pleaded guilty to in August.
Image: Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen walks out of federal court in New York on Nov. 29, 2018.Julie Jacobson / AP file

President Donald Trump said Monday that he didn't think a federal judge should afford his former longtime attorney Michael Cohen any leniency, saying that Cohen should serve a "full and complete" prison sentence.

The president tweeted his thoughts in response to reports that Cohen was hoping to avoid any time behind bars after pleading guilty in federal court last week to a new charge brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

On Thursday, Cohen pleaded guilty to a single count of making false statements to Congress about a project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, marking the first time that Trump and his private business dealings were named in open court as part of Mueller's investigation into Russia's ties to the Trump campaign.

Mueller wrote in a charging document that Cohen lied to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to minimize links between the president and the Moscow project, and to give the false impression that the project had ended before the Iowa caucuses in February 2016. In fact, the document states, Cohen briefed "Individual 1," who he identified in open court on Thursday as Trump, about the status and progress of the Moscow project "on more than the three occasions Cohen claimed" to the Senate committee, in addition to briefing the president's family members within the Trump Organization.

In addition, Cohen admitted, he continued to pursue Russian approval for Trump's Moscow project as late as June 2016. Cohen was a vice president of the Trump Organization at the time.

In a sentencing document filed Friday, Cohen's attorneys asked U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley to spare him prison time for both his guilty plea last week, and for the separate guilty plea he entered in August in which he admitted to eight felony counts, including tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations.

The president's mention of "all of the TERRIBLE, unrelated to Trump, things" in his tweet Monday seemed to be a reference to that original August plea. Many of the counts, including tax evasion and bank fraud, were not connected to the president.

However, the campaign finance violations Cohen pleaded guilty to in August were related to hush-money payments made to women during the 2016 campaign. Cohen said in open court at the time that he made the payments "at the direction of a candidate" for president, meaning Trump.

The payments, Cohen told the court, were made for the "principal purpose of influencing" the outcome of the election.

Trump has spent the past few days pushing back on his former attorney's most recent guilty plea, claiming his efforts to build a Trump Tower in Russia during his campaign for president were "very legal" and "very cool."

He also derided Cohen as a "weak person" who is "lying about a project that everybody knew about" in order to get a reduced sentence.

"I was running my business while I was campaigning," Trump told reporters Thursday. "There was a good chance that I wouldn't have won, in which case I would have gone back into the business and why should I lose lots of opportunities?"

Top Democrats raised alarms about the new timeline surrounding Trump's Russian real estate dealings, with Jerry Nadler, the likely incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, telling NBC's "Meet the Press" that the business negotiations gave Russia "leverage" over Trump.

"Well, whether it was legal or not remains to be seen," Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the likely incoming House Intelligence Committee chairman, told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "It certainly wasn't very cool. More than that, it was compromising of our country."

Cohen's plea agreement indicated that he is cooperating with Mueller's office. The attorney first formally offered information to Mueller in early August and went on to speak with the special counsel's office six additional times.

A source familiar with Cohen's thinking told NBC News last week that Trump's former fixer is "happy to be cooperating with Mueller" and "has no personal animus toward President Trump."

However, the source said Cohen believes Trump "has changed" since being elected president.

In August, prosecutors recommended a sentence of 46 to 63 months for Cohen. It is not yet clear whether they will decrease that recommendation following Cohen's most recent guilty plea.