Michael Cohen said in a secretly taped conversation with actor and comedian Tom Arnold that his guilty plea to certain charges brought by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) was based on “a lie,” according to a Wall Street Journal report. What might this mean for his plea and upcoming three-year prison term?
Cohen was convicted after he admitted to tax evasion and bank fraud, and he accepted responsibility for the offenses in court. Now it seems like he’s claiming innocence. Cohen indicated that he only took a plea deal because he didn’t want prosecutors to go after his wife.
“There is no tax evasion,” Cohen told Arnold. “And the Heloc?” he said, in reference to the bank loan for which he admitted to lying on an application, “I have an 18% loan-to-value on my home. How could there be a Heloc issue? How? Right?…It’s a lie.” Cohen appears to be indicating that since he didn’t receive a large loan from the bank, there wouldn’t have been a reason for him to lie on the application. Prosecutors said he gave a false value for his taxi medallions, which he used as collateral. As Cohen has noted in the past, he never missed any payments, and no bank ever lost money on his loans.
So what does this mean for his criminal conviction and upcoming sentence? Probably not a whole lot.
Law&Crime Network host and former N.J. prosecutor Bob Bianchi weighed in on the matter.
“I do not see this affecting his plea in the least. Even when a defendant pleads guilty and later officially recants in court, the law is that a ‘belated assertion of innocence’ is not enough to vacate a plea. The overwhelming evidence in Mr. Cohen’s case, the factual basis he gave to the court, his being a lawyer and as such he is not an unsophisticated person, render his private conversations of innocence to a friend irrelevant to his proceedings—they will move forward undaunted,” Bianchi said.
CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elie Honig agreed.
“No prosecutor is going to credit statements made to Tom Arnold over statements made in federal court under oath to a judge,” he said in an email to Law&Crime. “And even if one did, Cohen is already sentenced. There’s no way to reopen the sentence and seek more punishment.”
That’s not to say it won’t have any bearing on Cohen going forward. He’s been trying to get a lighter sentence, and in the process has made himself available to congressional committees for testimony about President Donald Trump. Honig said this “likely wasn’t going to happen anyway and now almost certainly won’t happen.”
Cohen’s testimony has already sparked an inquiry into the president’s past financial statements, but with these new remarks contradicting his plea, it makes him appear even less credible than he did after he admitted to lying to Congress in the past.
As Bianchi said, “politically he gives fodder again to those that say he is a liar and can’t be trusted as a witness before Congress.”
SDNY prosecutors also convicted Cohen of campaign finance violations for his role in arranging hush payments Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who claimed to have had affairs with President Donald Trump. Cohen didn’t deny his role in this, telling Arnold, “they had me on campaign finance.”
Cohen is set to begin his three-year prison sentence on May 6.
Note: This article has been updated with comments from former federal prosecutor Elie Honig.
[Image via Yana Paskova/Getty Images]