Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, said in a television interview airing Friday that Trump knew it was wrong to make hush-money payments to women who alleged they had affairs with him, directly contradicting claims from the president.
Cohen, who has admitted facilitating payments to two women in violation of campaign finance laws, told ABC News that he knew what he was doing was wrong.
Asked whether the president also knew it was wrong to make the payments, Cohen replied, “Of course.” He added that the purpose was to “help [Trump] and his campaign.”
His comments, in an interview on “Good Morning America,” are at odds with those of Trump on Thursday in tweets and a television interview.
Trump denied that he had directed Cohen to break the law during the 2016 campaign by buying the silence of former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal and adult-film actress Stormy Daniels. He also said that Cohen, as his lawyer, bore responsibility for any campaign finance violations.
“I never directed him to do anything wrong,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday. “Whatever he did he did on his own. … I never directed him to do anything incorrect or wrong.”
In his interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Cohen, who once vowed that he would “take a bullet” for Trump, flatly disputed the president’s assertion. He said Trump was well aware of important decisions involving his business.
“I don’t think there is anybody that believes that,” Cohen said. “First of all, nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me to make the payments. He directed me to become involved in these matters.”
Cohen’s comments were his first since being sentenced to three years in prison Wednesday for what U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III called a “veritable smorgasbord of criminal conduct” — crimes that included tax violations, lying to a bank and lying to Congress, as well as those related to the hush-money payments.
Federal prosecutors contend that Trump directed the payments in a bid to help his election prospects. Trump has denied the affairs and initially denied knowing anything about the payments but has since shifted his story.
Cohen is scheduled to report to prison on March 6.
In the ABC interview, Cohen declined to answer specific questions about the probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign. “I don’t want to jeopardize any of their investigations,” he said.
But asked whether he thinks Trump is telling the truth about the Russia investigation, Cohen replied, “No.”
Trump has denied any “collusion” with Russia and has repeatedly attacked Mueller and his lawyers, accusing them of conducting a “witch hunt.”
John Wagner writes for the Washington Post.