This Trump tweet said

Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately). He had other clients also. He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time. Using Crooked’s lawyer!

How could his sentence have been reduced? Does Congress have that power? Is there anyone, apart from Trump himself, who could pardon him? I would imagine that he could only have his sentence reduced on appeal, but sit ready to be corrected.

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    I am not a lawyer, and not that familiar with the US legal system. But if Mr. Cohen was lying to Congress, he was committing perjury (as he was under oath). That is unlikely to reduce his sentence. -- If he was cooperating with Congress, that would have to be as principal witness, which requires a main guilty party. This is the point where my understanding of the laws involved fails me. Would Mr. Cohen see any benefits from incriminating somebody who is then not found guilty? Because if there is guilt, Mr. Cohen wouldn't be lying, would he?
    – DevSolar
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 12:23
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    Might be a better question for Law SE. Even if it true that his sentence can only be reduced by a judge and not by Congress, I'm not sure that would prove Trump's tweet false. I imagine cooperation with Congress could be considered in court as "good behavior" or something like this, so reducing his prison time wouldn't necessarily require any official action from Congress or anything like a pardon.
    – Brian Z
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 12:50
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    If he was lying to Congress in order to reduce his prison time, then that would mean he's again committing the crime he previously plead guilty to and is receiving prison time for in order to... reduce his sentence for the other crimes he's been charged with? If committing a crime to reduce prison time for another crime is actually his plan, then I doubt any part of that plan is public knowledge and we can't prove/disprove it.
    – Giter
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 13:53
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    I'm also fairly sure that this question falls foul of the "no currently ongoing investigations" rule for skeptics.se. Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 17:52
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    @DevSolar - clearly the implication is that if Cohen makes certain people happy and support their supposedly illegitimate efforts, then they in turn will go easy on charges or sentencing recommendations. Lending false support to "Trumped-up" charges, and making the evil overlords behind the conspiracy happy, so to speak. And, please, folks, this is not my take on what's going on. Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 19:23

2 Answers 2


Yes and no.

APPEAL - To be clear, he cannot appeal his conviction or sentence as he plead guilty and agreed to the sentence. So just rule out an appeal reduction of his sentence. So I guess you are off-base in your logic.

"Once you have entered a guilty plea, the judge will convict you based on your own admissions, and you will ordinarily have no grounds to undo that conviction in a court of appeals. You may, however, be able to appeal your sentence, as long as you have not given up that right in any plea deal with the prosecution." Link

Congress does have a path (technical) to release him. They would have to change the sentence of the crimes he committed to non-custodial and do this retroactively. It would have to pass the senate and be signed by the president and would likely face a legal challenge.

Congress has the power to retroactivity reduce the sentence for a crime for which someone has been sentenced. This was done most recently in the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 that reduced excessive penalties for crack cocaine relative to powder cocaine. Link

PARDON - Nobody but the president can commute his sentence or pardon him for a federal crime for which he has been convicted.

The power to grant pardons is vested in the President alone. Link.

Other Paths to Reduce or Increase.

Numerous paths to decrease or increase his time served exist. This is not the same as his sentence though. Sentence and time-served are often very different in the USA.

Paths to a reduced sentence

  • No, on reduce. He has already been sentenced. It is a done deal. He cannot be retried or resentenced for the old crime at this point no matter what he did or said at his current hearing.

  • Maybe, on reduce, on a technicality. His parole board may look favorably on his testimony when he is up for parole and release him earlier. His post-sentencing cooperation and telling of the truth could be viewed as an example of him being reformed.

  • Yes, on reduce or no sentence or prison-time. He could say something that gets him a pardon (or a fully or partially commuted sentence) from the President. Again, highly unlikely based on Cohen's statements and Trump's statements but not impossible. A pardon or reduced or commuted sentence can be declined.

Paths to an increased sentence

  • Likely not, on increase (technically a new sentence). As the severity of the current suggested lie is minor (soliciting for a job in the new administration) in its wider implications this time and he is already doing prison time. I doubt a prosecutor would take this up, and even if they did, I doubt even if convicted it would result in an additional custodial sentence, but it could.

  • Possibly, on increase, on a technicality. His parole board may not look favorably on his testimony if he lied again when already under sentencing for lying to congress. This may count against him for early release. It could be perceived as showing a lack of reform.

  • Yes, on increase, if he lied again to congress as this is a new crime. Maybe his current testimony is found to contain more meaningful and important lies over the next few months (more than soliciting for a job in the new administration). Lets say for example he did go to Prague. It would be a new crime and hence a new trial and a new sentence if found guilty. It could not increase his old sentence but could result in a new one.

  • about the pardon-part, he might also be pardonned by another POTUS, provided the sentence application happens later, right ?
    – Pac0
    Commented Mar 3, 2019 at 16:03
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    He can be pardoned at any time including long after his death by any future president. The pardon privilege is only restricted by politics and not by anything else including mortality. Commented Mar 3, 2019 at 18:58

The claim here is that Michael Cohen's sentence was already reduced by Robert Mueller's (special counsel) prosecution team. Cohen then has to continue to tell the same story, including to Congress. If he told a different story, he could be prosecuted (again) for lying in his allocution (for our purposes here, his confession under oath when he plead guilty) or for lying in his Congressional testimony.

It may not be clear why he would have lied to Mueller's team. The presumption here is that if he had told the truth, that they would not have believed him. If they didn't believe him, they had no reason to ask the sentencing judge to go easy on him. However, if he told a plausible lie that conformed to their biases, they would believe him. An implicit claim here is that their biases favor believing negative depictions of Trump and against believing positive or neutral depictions of Trump. As such, only a negative story would garner sentencing relief.

The claim is not that he is going to get additional time off. Of course, Donald Trump is not a lawyer and may not understand that distinction.

For purposes of this answer, I'm not making this claim. It may be false, true, or some mixture of both. I'm just describing the claim so that you can make your own decision.

  • Do you assert that a special prosecutor can reduce a given sentence? Its duty is to search and present the facts to a judge, and is that judge the one who will dictate sentence.
    – bradbury9
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 14:59
  • While it is true that judges generally sentence (albeit not always), they tend to do so in line with prosecutorial recommendations. Further, judges are generally limited by what the prosecutor charges. For example, if the defendant is guilty of murder but the prosecutor only charges manslaughter, the judge can't sentence the defendant to a life sentence for murder but only the shorter term for manslaughter. It is typical for prosecutors to let cooperative defendants allocute to lesser sentences.
    – Brythan
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 0:00

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