Judge Rips Into Michael Cohen for Bank Fraud Trial ‘Perjury’

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

A federal judge on Wednesday refused to cut short Michael Cohen’s post-prison monitoring for tax evasion, blasting the disbarred attorney for “perjury”—a revelation that only came out because of Donald Trump’s relentless efforts to discredit his former confidante in a separate court battle.

While the matter marks a minor personal setback for Cohen, who must continue to abide by the strict terms of his supervised release, it also calls into question the trustworthiness of the man who will serve as the Manhattan District Attorney’s lead witness just weeks before the former president faces his first ever criminal trial in New York City.

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As a result, Cohen will still be under his three-year “supervised release” until just past Election Day this November, which requires him to regularly check in with a federal probation officer who can monitor his living conditions, employment, and whereabouts. (Cohen served less than a year at Otisville federal prison in New York and was allowed to serve out his three-year sentence from home in Manhattan during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The current drama stems from a blistering exchange on the witness stand during Trump’s recent bank fraud trial in New York state court on Oct. 25, when the real estate tycoon tried to fend off accusations of rampant bank fraud by exacting his revenge on Cohen, whom he once considered his consigliere.

That day, Trump lawyer Alina Habba—who has become something of an arch nemesis to Cohen—grilled him on the witness stand by bringing up his past federal conviction for dodging taxes and violating campaign finance laws. (Never mind that Cohen took the fall for helping Trump cover up a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, a case the feds didn’t pursue against the former president.)

At that bank fraud trial, Cohen tried to distance himself from his past crimes—an effort that would strengthen his testimony as New York Attorney General Letitia James tried to use him as a witness against Trump to prove that the businessman routinely fabricated personal financial statements.

But Habba wouldn’t let him walk back his 2018 guilty plea before U.S. District Judge William Henry Pauley III, forcing him to either admit he had a shady past or engaged in a false confession back in federal court.

“Did you lie to Judge Pauley when you said that you were guilty of the counts that you said under oath that you were guilty of? Did you lie to Judge Pauley?” she asked that day.

“Yes,” Cohen shot back.

When she later pressed the matter again, Cohen doubled down.

“But you earlier testified today that you omitted, you didn’t evade, isn’t that right?” she asked.

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“I did say that,” he replied.

“Right. So you lied when you said that you evaded taxes to a judge under oath; is that correct?”

“Yes,” he said, later adding that he did indeed mislead a federal judge.

On Wednesday, that exchange came back to haunt Cohen as another federal judge considered whether to shorten his supervised release. In his court order, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman tore into Cohen for the high wire act, saying that he either lied at his August 2018 guilty plea hearing or at the recent bank fraud trial. Furman concluded that Cohen severely undermined the argument that his lawyer, David M. Schwartz, was trying to make to justify reducing the sentence.

“It 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. Either way, it is perverse to cite the testimony, as Schwartz did, as evidence of Cohen’s ‘commitment to upholding the law,’” Furman wrote.

The federal judge also ridiculed the efforts by Cohen’s other lawyer, E. Danya Perry, to try to explain what happened. Furman rejected the notion that Cohen was merely trying to criticize the prosecutors for being too harsh.

“These efforts to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse fall flat. Cohen’s testimony was not, as Perry contends, a ‘clumsy’ or ‘poorly worded’ attempt to argue that… the government abused its prosecutorial discretion in charging those crimes,” he wrote. “To the contrary, he unambiguously testified that he ‘didn’t’ commit tax evasion and that he ‘lied’ to Judge Pauley when he said that he had.”

“Moreover, when given multiple opportunities to retreat from or clarify that testimony later, he stuck to his guns,” Furman noted.

The federal judge reasoned that Cohen can’t play both sides now, trying to rewrite the past while also feigning remorse. And he slammed Perry for “her zealous efforts at spin,” rejecting the notion that Cohen was merely trying to describe being unfairly pressured by the feds into a guilty plea.

“Cohen is certainly free to make that claim publicly, but he cannot do so and simultaneously ask the court to shorten his sentence on the ground that he has demonstrated ‘an exceptional level of remorse and a commitment to upholding the law,’” he wrote.

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In calling Cohen’s testimony “perjury,” the federal judge went much further than New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur F. Engoron did at the bank fraud trial, where the state judge found that Cohen’s testimony about Trump’s finances were indeed credible.

After the decision was issued, Cohen’s defense lawyer fought back, calling the judge’s description of what played out at the bank fraud trial “factually inaccurate and legally incorrect.”

“Judge Furman did not have a front seat to the testimony at the lengthy trial before Judge Engoron, who emphatically declared that ‘Michael Cohen told the truth,’” she wrote.

She also said that the federal judge “ignores… 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. That is exactly what happened to Mr. Cohen.”

Meanwhile, Habba suggested that Cohen hasn’t paid enough of a price—and should face even more prison time.

“Judge 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,’” she said in a text message to The Daily Beast.

“Habba the horrible has enough of her own legal problems to contend with. She should concentrate on an issue she can win,” Cohen shot back in a text message to The Daily Beast later in the afternoon.

Furman’s timing is pure gold for Trump’s legal team, which is sure to employ the federal judge’s order at the former president’s upcoming trial versus Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg as an attempt to undermine Cohen’s reliability as a witness in front of jurors.

Manhattan prosecutors are relying heavily on Cohen to explain how Trump used him to funnel a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels in a hurried attempt to keep her from exposing their 2006 one-night stand in the closing days of the 2016 presidential election.

Trump’s $420,000 reimbursement to Cohen marks the core of the criminal charges against the politician, as he has been charged with 34 felony counts for faking business records to cover up the deal.

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