New York - US President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen delivered a blistering attack on his ex-boss as he was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday for multiple crimes including making hush payments to silence two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.
"I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds," Cohen said as he pleaded for leniency before US District Judge William H. Pauley III in a packed Manhattan courtroom.
An emotional Cohen, Trump's longtime "fixer," told the court he was taking responsibility for his personal crimes and "those implicating the president of the United States of America."
Cohen's lawyers had argued for no jail time after he pleaded guilty to tax evasion, providing false statements to a bank, illegal campaign contributions and making false statements to Congress.
But Judge Pauley said Cohen -- as a lawyer -- "should have known better" and sentenced him to three years in federal prison, ordering him to surrender to custody by March 6.
"Each of these crimes standing alone warrant considerable punishment," Pauley said, adding that Cohen was "motivated by personal greed and ambition."
"A significant term of imprisonment is fully justified in this highly publicised case to send a message," the judge said.
The charges were brought by federal prosecutors in New York and by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether any members of Trump's campaign colluded with Moscow.
Before Pauley passed sentence the 52-year-old Cohen addressed the court, saying it was his devotion to Trump that caused him to choose "a path of darkness over light."
"Today is the day that I am getting my freedom back," he said.
"I have been living in a personal and mental incarceration ever since the day that I accepted the offer to work for a real estate mogul whose business acumen I deeply admired," Cohen said.
"I now realise there was little to admire," he said.
- 'Dirty deeds' -
Cohen referred to a recent tweet from Trump calling him "weak," saying his only weakness was "blind loyalty" to his former boss.
"Time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds rather than to listen to my own inner voice and my moral compass," he said.
Among the charges against Cohen was making hush money payments to silence two women threatening to go public during the election campaign with claims they had affairs with Trump.
Cohen told prosecutors the payments totaling $280,000 to porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal were made "in coordination with and at the direction" of Trump -- referred to by prosecutors as "Individual-1."
Both women have claimed to have had sexual encounters with Trump before he was the Republican candidate for president and prosecutors have characterized the payments as illegal campaign contributions intended to influence the election.
"Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election," prosecutors said.
Trump this week sought to minimize the importance of the payments saying they were a "simple private transaction" and were "wrongly" being called campaign contributions.
"Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced," Trump tweeted. "WITCH HUNT!"
There was no immediate reaction from Trump to Cohen's sentencing.
- Lied to Congress -
While federal prosecutors said Cohen's cooperation was limited and selective, the special counsel's office said Cohen had "gone to significant lengths" to assist their investigation.
Last month, Cohen acknowledged that he had lied to Congress about his contacts with Russia during the election campaign about building a Trump Tower in Moscow and the extent of Trump's own involvement in the negotiations.
Cohen, wearing a dark suit with a light blue tie, arrived for the sentencing with his wife, son and daughter, who was walking with a crutch. Other family members were also in the audience including his 83-year-old wheelchair-bound father.
For 12 years, Cohen was vice president of The Trump Organization, the umbrella company for Trump's real estate businesses, and one of the principal confidants of the New York billionaire.
Investigators raided Cohen's offices and New York home in April, seizing stacks of documents and electronic devices.AFP