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Federal Prosecutors Ask For 'Substantial' Prison Term For Michael Cohen


A short time ago, federal prosecutors filed new documents in the case involving former lawyer and fixer to President Trump Michael Cohen. Prosecutors have asked for a substantial term of imprisonment for Cohen for both tax evasion and for paying hush money to two women who claim to have had affairs with Trump.

Here to discuss the details is former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade. Welcome.

BARBARA MCQUADE: Thanks very much.

CHANG: So these documents shed some light on the extent of Michael Cohen's cooperation with the special counsel. Can you just break that down for us? How do prosecutors see the extent of his cooperation?

MCQUADE: Well, they do break it down. You know, they're a little bit coy. And I think to the surprise of some, including me, they did not redact this document. It does lay out in language what the cooperation has been. They described four significant ways he's cooperated, talking in particular about contacts with Russia, about the core of the investigation, about contacts with the White House and circulating his false testimony beforehand.

CHANG: OK, so let's take each of those separately. How do these latest developments say or what do they say, if anything, about Cohen's contacts with Russia?

MCQUADE: Quite a bit actually. It talks in some detail about the Trump Tower Moscow part, the subject of his false testimony. But it goes...

CHANG: To Congress.

MCQUADE: ...A little further in that. It talks about contacts with Russians who offered political synergy, synergy on a government level, and seemed to be using the Trump Tower Moscow as a sweetener to engage in conversations about political cooperation as well.

CHANG: Does it say anything about election coordination between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russia?

MCQUADE: Well, not in so many words. But one of the things it says is that he provided information that was discreet relating to Russia, related matters core to the special counsel's investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contacts with company executives during the campaign. And core mission of course is election interference. So I think reading between the lines, the answer to that question is yes.

CHANG: What about anything about his possible involvement in obstruction of justice, any details there?

MCQUADE: You know, again, they're a little coy about it. But it does say that he provided information about his contacts with persons connected to the White House and that he circulated his response to congressional inquiries, which we now know were false. And so to the extent those things are related - and it's the White House officials who reviewed those documents when they were being circulated...

CHANG: Yeah.

MCQUADE: ...I think it does hint that that's what's going on there.

CHANG: OK, so does any of this in any way advance the investigation of Robert Mueller? What can we conclude?

MCQUADE: I think very much so yes. I mean, the part especially that says he had all these contacts with Russians, that he was talking with - it refers to him as Individual 1, but it identifies that as the owner of the company he represented, so I think that's President Trump himself. It suggests that President Trump knew all about these negotiations with Russia relating to a Trump Tower in Moscow. And to the extent it says that this goes to the core of the special counsel's investigation...

CHANG: The core.

MCQUADE: ...Which is election interference...

CHANG: Yeah.

MCQUADE: ..I would submit that, yes, it does say that.

CHANG: So prosecutors are asking for a substantial term of imprisonment. What does that mean? How many years are we talking here, you think?

MCQUADE: Yeah, they've left that up to the judge. They'll calculate that based on sentencing guidelines and other things. They've kind of stayed out of it. But by highlighting his cooperation, they are asking the judge to show him some mercy. So with regard to the false statements, his guidelines range is really zero to six months. With regard to the fraud and other things, we could be looking at a few years.

CHANG: OK. And very briefly, does today's news with respect to Michael Cohen tell us anything about how close Robert Mueller might be to wrapping up this whole investigation?

MCQUADE: You know, I think the answer is no because it's difficult to know what else he needs to do. But it does suggest that Michael Cohen in the recent months has provided information that advances the investigation. And so I think in light of some of the other things that we know like...

CHANG: Yeah.

MCQUADE: ...What's happening with Jerome Corsi and...


MCQUADE: ...Roger Stone suggests that we've got a little bit of...

CHANG: Got it.

MCQUADE: ...Time to go.

CHANG: All right, former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade, thank you so much.

MCQUADE: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.