Judge says Michael Cohen may have committed perjury, refuses to end his probation early

FILE - Michael Cohen leaves a lower Manhattan building after meeting with prosecutors, March 10, 2023, in New York. A federal judge has suggested Michael Cohen has committed perjury under oath, giving fresh support to former President Donald Trump's claims that his onetime personal lawyer and star witness at his upcoming criminal trial in New York is an untrustworthy liar. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

FILE – Michael Cohen leaves a lower Manhattan building after meeting with prosecutors, March 10, 2023, in New York. A federal judge has suggested Michael Cohen has committed perjury under oath, giving fresh support to former President Donald Trump’s claims that his onetime personal lawyer and star witness at his upcoming criminal trial in New York is an untrustworthy liar. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge suggested Wednesday that Michael Cohen committed perjury under oath, giving fresh support to former President Donald Trump’s claims that his onetime personal lawyer — poised to be a star prosecution witness at his upcoming New York criminal trial — is an untrustworthy liar.

Judge Jesse M. Furman in Manhattan questioned Cohen’s truthfulness in a written order denying his request for early release from the court supervision that followed his three-year prison sentence for crimes including tax evasion, lying to banks and Congress and violating campaign finance laws.

Furman cited Cohen’s testimony at Trump’s civil fraud trial in a Manhattan state court last October. On the witness stand, Cohen insisted he wasn’t actually guilty of tax evasion even though he pleaded guilty to the charge in 2018. Asked if he had lied to the federal judge who accepted his guilty plea, Cohen said, “Yes.”

“Cohen repeatedly and unambiguously testified at the state court trial that he was not guilty of tax evasion and that he had lied under oath” to the late Judge William H. Pauley III, Furman wrote.

He said Cohen’s testimony “gives rise to two possibilities: one, Cohen committed perjury when he pleaded guilty before Judge Pauley or, two, Cohen committed perjury in his October 2023 testimony.”

“At a minimum, Cohen’s ongoing and escalating efforts to walk away from his prior acceptance of responsibility for his crimes are manifest evidence of the ongoing need for specific deterrence,” Furman wrote as he explained why he left in place the court supervision that is scheduled to end later this year.

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has repeatedly attacked Cohen’s credibility, saying he “committed MASSIVE PERJURY” in the civil fraud case “at a level seldom seen on the stand before.”

Trump, who was accused in the case of lying about his wealth on financial statements used to secure loans and make deals, reacted after Cohen backtracked from initial testimony that Trump had directed him to boost the value of assets to “whatever number Trump told us to.”

Pressed on cross-examination, Cohen conceded that Trump never told him to inflate the numbers — though Cohen later said Trump signaled it indirectly, and “we understood what he wanted.”

Trump lost the case and was ordered last month to pay a $454 million penalty.

In response to Furman’s findings, Cohen sent reporters a statement from his lawyer, E. Danya Perry, in which she said she takes exception to the judge’s conclusion, calling it “factually inaccurate and legally incorrect.”

“Judge Furman did not have a front seat to the testimony at the lengthy trial,” she said. Perry added that the trial judge ultimately stated that Cohen “told the truth.”

“And Judge Furman ignores that Mr. Cohen has never disputed the underlying facts of his conduct, and also what many of Judge Furman’s own colleagues on the bench have long noted: that defendants often feel compelled to agree to coercive plea deals under severe pressure,” she said. “That is exactly what happened to Mr. Cohen.”

Trump lawyer Alina Habba said Furman “confirmed what we already know: that Michael Cohen committed perjury and should be prosecuted. As the Manhattan DA says on their website ‘one standard of justice for all.’”

The judge in the civil fraud trial, however, did deem Cohen credible. In his decision, Judge Arthur Engoron wrote that Cohen proved truthful despite “seeming contradictions” in his testimony and the cloud of his guilty plea. Engoron said that while Cohen had an “incentive to lie” after falling out with Trump, he found the ex-lawyer’s testimony credible based in part on his relaxed manner and the general plausibility of his statements.

In his ruling, Furman also decided not to impose sanctions against a lawyer who cited three bogus artificial intelligence-generated legal case citations in a court filing because he was unaware Cohen had plucked them from research he conducted using Google Bard. Perry discovered that the cases weren’t real and told the judge.

When Cohen pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2018, he said Trump directed him to arrange the payment of hush-money to two women to fend off damage to his 2016 presidential bid. Federal prosecutors did not charge Trump. Before Cohen was sentenced, federal prosecutors attacked his credibility.

Last year, Trump pleaded not guilty in New York state court in Manhattan to 34 felony charges alleging that he falsified internal business records at his private company to cover up his involvement in the payouts.

Cohen is a key prosecution witness in Trump’s hush-money criminal trial, which has been delayed until at least mid-April after the defense complained about a last-minute evidence dump from a 2018 federal investigation into Cohen and the hush-money matter.

After ex-Trump Organization finance chief Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty this month to lying during his fraud case testimony, Trump’s lawyers accused the Manhattan district attorney’s office of turning “a blind eye” to Cohen’s alleged perjury.

In a March 4 letter to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Trump lawyer Todd Blanche wrote that the prosecution’s “conscious choice to ignore obvious and admitted criminal conduct by Cohen and to instead deploy unethical, strong-armed tactics against an innocent man in his late 70s underscores the irresponsibility of your conduct in office.”

Bragg’s office didn’t respond publicly to Blanche’s letter.

Trump’s lawyers sought to have Cohen barred from testifying at the hush-money trial, arguing in a court filing that “Michael Cohen is a liar. He recently committed perjury, on the stand and under oath, at a civil trial involving President Trump. If his public statements are any indication, he plans to do so again at this criminal trial.”

Hush-money trial Judge Juan M. Merchan rejected that argument, saying he was “unaware of any perjured testimony” Cohen had given in the criminal matter, nor could he find any precedent for keeping a witness off the stand “because his credibility has been previously called into question.”

In essence, he wrote in a decision Monday, Trump’s lawyers were arguing Cohen should not be allowed to testify “because his past actions suggest that he will commit perjury,” putting emphasis on “suggest.”

AP Politics

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