SUNDAY: Why was Cohen sentenced to prison?

SUNDAY, APRIL 28, 2024

The novelization of news: Back in August 2018, Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison.

Cohen had been Donald Trump's "fixer." Among his various duties, he was deeply involved in the "hush money" payment to a certain "porn star."

(Phrasing it a different way, he was deeply involved in the NDA with an adult woman who wasn't Donald Trump's wife.)

If Cohen had to go to prison, why shouldn't Trump be sent there too? Nicolle Wallace has been asking that question for the past several years on her two-hour daily program, Deadline: White House.

We don't have an answer to that question. Today, we'll be asking a different question:

What were the crimes for which Michael Cohen get sentenced to three years?

On Friday's broadcast, Wallace answered that question as she spoke with "some of [her] favorite reporter and friends." She did so for perhaps the ten thousandth time by now.

Below, you see the bulk of what was said. For videotape of the exchange, you can start by clicking here:

WALLACE (4/26/24): I know a lot's been made of Michael Cohen's credibility. But what did Michael Cohen go to jail for?

LITMAN (with pauses): Ah, well— 

WALLACE: Just answer for me. Just help me understand. What did he—

LITMAN: Perjury!

WALLACE: But what was he lying about?

So the Socratic examination began. Here's the way it continued:

LITMAN (continuing directly): Oh, it's, it's—it's three versus— It's almost hard to follow. 

[Turns to Andrew Weissmann] 

What is it exactly? How many times he—

WEISSMANN: Well, his main perjury was in Congress. and it was for Donald Trump—

LITMAN: Trump! Yeah!

WEISSMANN: It was lying about the Moscow and Russia deal. 

WALLACE: But let me just— But—

SOMEONE OFF CAMERA: The fake election stuff was what he pled to.

WALLACE: But then his sentencing agreement is about what crimes? What crimes does Michael Cohen plead to in his sentencing?  Election crimes, right? 

LITMAN: Well, that's what [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. Yeah!

WALLACE: I mean, who was running for president? It wasn't Michael Cohen. Who had sex with Stormy Daniels. It wasn't Michael Cohen. Who had a ten-month love affair with Karen McDougal? It wasn't Michael Cohen...

He didn't benefit at all. I'm just trying to pick up on the common sense thing.

So the discussion went. We're going to focus on Wallace's account of what Cohen pleaded guilty to and was sentenced for. 

Wallace may have been "trying to pick up on the common sense thing," but she was doing a very poor job picking up on the basic facts. Beyond that, we can't swear that Wallace's guests weren't playing it a little bit dumb as this colloquy unfolded.

According to Wallace—but also according to someone off-camera—Michael Cohen pled guilty to "election crimes," to "the fake election stuff," full stop. In fairness, that's the standard answer on MSNBC programs.

In fact, Cohen pled guilty to eight or nine federal counts, depending on how you want to take the roll—and only two of the eight or nine counts were related to the election matter. 

Also, the other six or seven counts had nothing to do with Donald J. Trump. Those other counts involved fraudulent conduct by Cohen in support of his own business ventures and his own considerable wealth.

For what "veritable smorgasbord of criminal conduct" did Cohen plead guilty? (We're quoting the federal judge who handed down the sentence.) 

You can read the formal statement by the DOJ just by clicking here. Headline included, the statement starts as shown:

Michael Cohen Sentenced To 3 Years In Prison

Robert Khuzami, Attorney for the United States, Acting Under Authority Conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 515, announced that MICHAEL COHEN was sentenced today to three years in prison for tax evasion, making false statements to a federally insured bank, and campaign finance violations.  COHEN pled guilty on August 21, 2018, to an eight-count information before U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III, who imposed today’s sentence.  

In a separate prosecution brought by the Special Counsel’s Office (“SCO”), COHEN pled guilty on November 29, 2018 to one count of making false statements to the U.S. Congress and was also sentenced on that case today, receiving a two-month concurrent sentence.

That was the start of the formal DOJ statement. Here's the report from NBC News, including their summary of the nine counts to which he pled:

Michael Cohen gets 3 years, says Trump's 'dirty deeds' led him to 'choose darkness' 

An emotional Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer and fixer, was sentenced Wednesday to 3 years behind bars for what a Manhattan federal court judge called a “veritable smorgasbord" of criminal conduct, including making secret payments to women who claimed they had affairs with Trump, lying to Congress about the president’s business dealings with Russia and failing to report millions of dollars in income.

Judge William Pauley found Cohen, 52, deserved “a significant term of imprisonment” for crimes that were driven by “personal greed and ambition.”


Charges brought by the Southern District:

Counts 1-5: Evasion of assessment of income tax liability for pleading guilty to failing to report more than $4 million in income from 2012 through 2016.

Count 6: False statements to a bank for Cohen pleading guilty to understating debt from his taxi medallion business in the process of applying for a home equity line of credit with a bank.

Count 7: Causing an unlawful corporation contribution for when he pleaded guilty to orchestrating a payment made by American Media to Karen McDougal for her “limited life story,” an allegation that she had an affair with Donald Trump.

Count 8: Excessive campaign contribution for when he pleaded guilty to making an excessive political contribution when he paid adult film actress Stephanie Clifford aka Stormy Daniels $130,000 for her story and silence about Clifford’s alleged affair with Donald Trump.

Charge brought by Robert Mueller

Count 1: False statements to Congress for when Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress on Aug. 28, 2017, when he sent a two-page letter to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as well as during testimony before Congress.

Counts 7 and 8 involved the "hush money / NDA." The other seven counts involved separate, distinct federal crimes.

For the record, CNBC's report about the nine counts included the possible prison sentence each offense entailed. By far, the offense which carried the longest possible sentence—30 years, as opposed to just five!—was Count 6, which had nothing to do with the hush money payment or with Trump himself.

Wallace has discussed this all-encompassing topic for what seems like a thousand years by now. Is it possible that she still doesn't know the actual shape of this "smorgasbord" of criminal conduct?

We don't know how to answer that question. But how about her favorite reporters and friends? Is it possible that none of them knew that Cohen had pleaded guilty to nine different counts, only two of which were involved in the matter currently at hand? 

We knew that, right here at this site! Is it really possible that Wallace and her panelist didn't?

Putting it a different way, is it possible that Wallace's guests chose to hem and haw a bit this day? That they chose to avoid noting the fact that Wallace's account of this matter was pleasing but inaccurate?

We don't know how to answer those questions, but it seems to us that someone sitting on that set must have known that Wallace's account, like many accounts on today's "cable news," was tribally pleasing but wrong. 

None of this tells us if Donald J. Trump should be convicted of a crime by that Gotham jury. None of this tells us if he should be sentenced to prison.

That said, we aren't posting this to ask you to think about Donald J. Trump. We're suggesting that you think about the process we first described, more than two decades ago, as "the novelization of news."

From the Blue America perspective, Wallace created a pleasingly simplified story with her collapsed account of Cohen's guilty plea. It seems to us that her favorites and her friends may have been playing along.

That said, "cable news" tends to run on Storyline, not on accurate statements of fact. Our high-end journalism has worked this way for a very long time. 

The best description of this process came from E. R. Shipp, in a very brief column for the Washington Post when she served as the paper's ombudsman. Her column was written all the way back in early 2000 as mainstream journalists were writing a highly simplistic group novel in which they "typecast" the four major candidates with a shot at the White House that year.

(Bush, Gore, Bradley, McCain.)

The Post published Shipp's column; the typecasting continued. That's the way the game was played that year, and then in the years to come.

Michael Cohen got three years for his role in the hush money paid to the porn star! We've seen Wallace and her friends present that claim a thousand times by now.

For people hoping to lock Trump up, it makes for a vastly improved type of story. On a basic factual basis, it isn't accurate. But as the old saying goes, it's close enough for the kind of journalism referred to as "cable news."

Cohen pleaded to nine crimes. Only two involved the NDA. 

Whether you think it matters or not, there's little chance that you'll ever hear Wallace say that. None of this can really tell us what the verdict in Gotham should be. 

For those who can storm the paywall: For those of you who can storm the paywall, the New York Times' Alan Feuer wrote a colorful piece about the various crimes to which Cohen had pled.

His richest machinations involved the behaviors which didn't involve Donald J. Trump and the woman who wasn't his wife. Feuer's essay appeared beneath this headline:

6 Takeaways From Michael Cohen’s Guilty Plea

If you can storm the paywall, you should just click here

For the record, we're never happy to hear that someone is being sent to prison. Some people do have to go to prison, but we're glad that Cohen is out.


  1. "What were the crimes for which Michael Cohen get sentenced to three years?"

    It doesn't really matter: Michael Cohen is just a pawn is the Get Trump game. Same as, for example, Michael Flynn before him, except Michael Flynn hasn't caved in. You tend to get obsessed with meaningless details, Bob.

    1. You can't charge a person with crimes, if they filed their election papers first.
      That's just science.

    2. 2:27,
      That's what the Deep State wants you to believe.
      Don't fall for their head fakes.

  2. Quaker in a BasementApril 28, 2024 at 3:18 PM

    The DOJ's press release on Cohen's guitly plea did not allocate time sentenced to his individual crimes. And neither does the trial transcript of Cohen's sentencing hearing. All of his guitly pleas were "grouped" and his sentence of 36 moths was assssed for all of his crimes together--including the campaign finance violations.

    Only a couple of the charges against Cohen involved the payments to people who had stories to tell about Donald Trump.

    As we sit here, years later, why are we recalling all this? Because former president Trump is on trial in New York. He's accused of falsifying his company's business records. That's a felony rap, but only if the falsification was done to hide a different crime.

    The two criminal counts against Cohen which involved Trump are relevant to this trial. The other counts that didn't implicate Trump are not.

    So are Wallace, Weissmann, and Littman off-base when they fail to mention the counts that aren't relevant to the current discussion?

    I suppose so, if one is striving for strict accuracy. However, as it has been noted, those counts don't have anything to do with Trump or the current charges he faces. Was Cohen sentenced to prison for the two counts involving Trump? Yes! Yes, he was. And other crimes too.

    Is it accurate then, to say Cohen went to prison for crimes involving Trump's campaign schemes? It is. It may not be scrupulously complete, but it is accurate and focuses on the relevant record for Trump's trial.

    1. IANAL, but why are crimes committed by Trump's lawyer relevant? I suppose these crimes would be relevant if the prosecutor could prove that Trump was a co-conspirator on Cohen's crimes. Otherwise it would seem to me to be improper to even introduce them into the case.

      I'd be happy to be corrected by someone who understands this better than I do.

    2. They are relevant because Trump conspired along with Cohen to plan those crimes.

    3. That's why David Pecker was called as a prosecution withness.

    4. It's relevant that Trump hates American Democracy and should be hung for his attempted autogolpe. Fuck the bastard.

    5. Trump holds a comfortable lead over Biden in current polls. This is more of a testament to how deeply people dislike Biden that anything good about Trump.

      I don't think left leaning political junkies or people inside the Beltway fully realize how negatively Biden is viewed by so many people. No one out in the sticks is buying what he is selling. Eg. propaganda about fixing late fees etc. They don't believe any of it. It's hard to overstate his overwhelming unpopularity. I wonder when they will admit it?

    6. Yes, 6:59, people got SO much from Trump’s presidency, if by people you mean billionaires and giant corporations. The rest of us got to watch Trump play golf. Good times.

    7. Exactly. Trump was that bad and we're still are going to elect him again because of how much people hate Biden. It's a pretty wild situation.

    8. Polls show most Americans view Joe Biden's presidency as a failure and Donald Trump's presidency as a success.

    9. (President Biden doesn't appeal to Americans. It's that simple. The more they see him, the more they hate him.)

    10. If the Democrats are serious that Trump is such a threat to democracy, why are they running the least popular president in 70 years against him?

    11. I’m planning to write in George Soros.

  3. Somerby once again uses the only platform he has to nitpick a cable news show that is on the right side of history. Enjoy a second Trump term, Bob. Sure, Trump may have been responsible for tens of thousands of unnecessary Covid deaths, may have stolen and lied about some of our country's most secret information, may have tried multiple ways to steal a U.S. presidential election culminating in a violent attack on our nation's capital, may intend to politicize and weaponize the justice department, the IRS, and other major federal government functions, may have extorted an ally during wartime in an attempt to cheat in the 2020 election, causing a delay in desperately needed military aid and likely causing more unnecessary deaths, may have caused the more recent delay in Ukraine aid that led to more unnecessary deaths of the same ally, may have (once again just for his own political advantage) stopped a bill that would have at least partially addressed the border issue that Somerby is so concerned about, may have sexually assaulted dozens of women, may have broken any number of other laws and rules, may in short have done and continue to do serious, long-term damage to our country and to the wider world . . . BUT, at least he won't go to jail. What a relief.

    1. I agree with every particular of your list of indictments of Trump — but I don’t understand why you insist Somerby must discuss these topics rather than the ones he chooses. Somerby thinks The Discouse itself is diseased, which is a fundamental, systemic disorder, and Trump is but a symptom.

    2. Why would anyone think he's going to stop using his platform to speak his mind about cable news and start to use it advocating for Trump all of a sudden?

      He's always used his platform to speak his mind about cable news.

    3. We're headed towards catastrophe and Bob is nitpicking the statements of people trying to prevent that catastrophe. Do you seriously not see how utterly distorted his priorities are? I can't believe I even have to explain it.

    4. His contention is the simplifications and inaccurate reporting by the cable news networks contribute to the catastrophe.

      But it doesn't matter how well you explain your feelings about his priorities. It's his platform and he's using it the way he wants. Why would you expect any different?

    5. I follow a guy who writes about the Golden State Warriors. I’ve never thought to tell him that he should be sounding the alarm about Trump instead.

      A writer writes what he thinks is important; if I agree, I read him.

    6. 7:58 — Amen.

    7. If he’s following the Warriors his priorities are skewed. Tell him to follow the 49ers or even the Giants.

    8. Utterly bogus? Sorry to bother you, then.

    9. If Trump is such a huge threat, why are Democrats supporting a candidate to run against him that is more unpopular than Nixon and that the American people have long ago rejected?

    10. As if anyone on here has any control over who the candidate is. We're supporting him because there's no realistic alternative at this point. But I will say that Biden's unpopularity is not a function of anything he has done or not done. He's had a remarkably good presidency. His unpopularity is a function of people's ignorance about politics, media coverage, and probably some ageism.

    11. Why is the no realistic alternative at this point? Is that Somerby and Trump's fault too?

    12. "The" is no realistic alternative because it's a part of speech.

    13. I am supporting one of the most impactful Presidents of my long life. Polls and people are coming to their senses. I think not because of the tremendous policy put into place by our President, but mostly because the other guy shits his pants.

    14. So you're voting for Biden? Cool.

    15. Are these idiots trying to comfort themselves by insisting Biden is widely despised outside the MAGA movement? Maybe they are just little Republican children and there is no going back from never growing up. But Mao, saying it over and over won’t make it happen.7 out of the last popular votes you’ve lost. It may be at this point Republicans would RATHER win with the electoral college. It has become, after all, the white person’s anffirma action.

    16. Every day we get the message that Bob has little credibility and influence, yet his both-sides-ism is also capable of pushing swarms of wavering centrists and liberals into the Trump camp.

      Bob’s a has-been nobody, but your butt is parked in his driveway kicking his tires every day.

    17. Cecelia
      Bob is (anti)virtue-signaling to the pieces of shit we call "Republicans".
      Bob, not his tires, needs a swift kick in the ass.

  4. The supreme court won't let us jail Trump. Let's jail David instead.

  5. Paid does a good job of showing where.Bob is wrong, but of course fails to mention how it is utterly consistent with the Bob’s horseshit on Trump from day one. Bob’s post isn’t about Trump or Cohen, really, it’s about going after Nicole Wallace. Love Bob hypocritical piety at the end, or course I HATE to see people go to jail……Bob may be the only guy to attend Harvard and then join the Sovereign Citizen movement.

  6. Why pay you to use AI when we can do it on our own?