Cohen Sentencing Casts Cloud Over Trump’s Chief of Staff Search

Former ‘fixer’ says he was just following his client’s orders with payments to women

Michael Cohen (center), former personal attorney for President Donald Trump, leaves the Hart Senate Office Building after a meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss Russian interference in the 2016 election on September 19, 2017. He since admitted to lying to lawmakers and was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The sentencing of Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former “fixer” and personal attorney, could hang over the president’s search for a new White House chief of staff.

After all, on one of the counts that put Cohen in prison for three years, Cohen contends he was merely following his former client’s direction. And in an emotional statement in a New York courtroom Wednesday, Cohen blamed his actions on a “blind loyalty” to the president that he said “led me to choose a path of darkness over light.”

“Time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds,” he said, according to media accounts from inside the room.

While cleaning up a president’s “dirty deeds” is not exactly in the chief of staff’s job description, the person Trump chooses to replace the soon-to-depart John Kelly will have to be loyal to the president and follow his orders.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said as much Tuesday.

When senior aides disagree with the commander in chief and his agenda, she said, “they need to do that behind closed doors.” Sanders also noted it is the president’s job to make decisions and “once he’s made them, it’s our job as a staff …. to implement them.”

A federal judge sentenced Cohen to three years in prison Wednesday on charges of tax evasion, campaign finance and false statements to Congress. Eight of the nine charges for which he was sentenced are not directly related to Trump — but the campaign finance charges stem from payments that federal prosecutors contend and Cohen admitted were ordered by Trump.

In court documents released Friday, Cohen admitted to, responding to direction from his then-client, making payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels (real name: Stephanie Clifford) and Playboy model Karen McDougal. Cohen told prosecutors he paid the women because he feared Trump’s alleged extramarital affairs might cost him the 2016 presidential election.

As Cohen soon heads to federal prison, candidates for the White House post include House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also has been floated, as has David Bossie, a 2016 Trump deputy campaign manager.

Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, was the leading candidate and a Trump favorite. But he turned down the offer — opting instead to leave the White House and join a pro-Trump political action organization.

Watch: Border Wall Meeting Gets Hectic Between Trump, Schumer, Pelosi

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.