AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It's been eight months since FBI agents raided the office and residences of President Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen. Since then, Cohen has pleaded guilty to several crimes, including lying to Congress and campaign finance violations. Today, in a New York courtroom, a federal judge sentenced Cohen to three years in prison.
NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas was there. He joins us now. And, Ryan, I understand you were actually in the courtroom today for the Cohen sentencing. Can you describe what the scene was like?
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, the room itself was packed. Reporters began lining up about three hours ahead of time. They took up about half the benches in the courtroom. Cohen's family was there in force as well to show their support. Most of them were dressed in black or dark gray almost as though they were there for a funeral.
His mother and his father were both there. His father is a Holocaust survivor. He was in a wheelchair in the courtroom. When Cohen walked in, he kissed both of his parents on the cheek. At one point, Cohen actually asked his father how he was feeling, and his father answered, OK.
Now, Cohen's wife and his son and his daughter came in with Cohen to the courtroom. Cohen was wearing a dark suit, light blue tie. And I have to say, after this whole ordeal, he definitely looked gaunt and exhausted from it.
CORNISH: Right. I mean, there's been so much attention on this case. I understand that he gave a pretty emotional address.
LUCAS: He did indeed. He talked to the court for about 10 minutes. He took responsibility for his actions. And he said, ironically, today is actually one of the most meaningful days of his life because he said that today, I get my freedom back. And he went on to explain what he meant by that. He said that he'd been living in what he called mental and personal incarceration since he began working for Donald Trump. And his blind loyalty to Trump led him to choose what Cohen described as a path of darkness, not light.
The president has called him weak on Twitter. Cohen said that's right. He was weak, but he was weak for not having the strength to refuse Trump's demands. He viewed it as his duty to cover up Trump's dirty deeds, Cohen said. And he says that he's ashamed that he dragged his family into all of this, that his wife and kids don't deserve to go through this, that Cohen's parents don't deserve to go through this. It's been quite an ordeal. And Cohen also apologized to the American people. He apologized to them for lying to them. And he said that they deserve to know the truth.
CORNISH: Did the judge provide any insight into his thinking behind that three-year sentence?
LUCAS: Judge William Pauley did. He said that the crimes that Cohen has pleaded guilty to were serious offenses, and he described it as a smorgasbord of fraudulent activity. And then he rattled off what Cohen had indeed pleaded guilty to - so tax evasion, lying to a bank, campaign finance violations. And those of course are related to the hush money payments to two women who said that they had affairs with Trump. And then the last count would be lying to Congress about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. And the judge said that as a lawyer, Cohen should have known better.
The judge at the same time, though, acknowledged that Cohen has cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. He said that merited consideration when it came to his sentencing, but it doesn't wipe the slate clean. Now, in addition to the three years in prison that Judge Pauley gave Cohen, he also ordered Cohen to pay nearly $1.4 million in restitution. And as the judge read out his sentence, Cohen stood somberly. He listened to it. His daughter, however, began to sob. And afterwards, Cohen walked over and kissed her on the forehead.
CORNISH: About those hush money payments, I understand there's more news on that front.
LUCAS: That's right. Prosecutors here in the Southern District of New York have reached a deal with American Media, Inc. That's the parent company of the tabloid the National Enquirer. Under the agreement, AMI won't be prosecuted for its role in the payment made to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, one of the women who says she had an affair with Trump. And AMI also admits that it made the payment in coordination with the Trump campaign, and the goal was to influence the election by not having this damaging information out about Trump.
CORNISH: NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas out of New York, thanks for speaking with us.
LUCAS: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.