WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday denied that he had directed his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to break the law during the 2016 campaign by buying the silence of two women who claimed they once had affairs with the future president.
In morning tweets, Trump, however, did not dispute that he had directed Cohen to make the payments, as Cohen and federal prosecutors have alleged — actions that could imperil Trump if he knew what was being done violated campaign finance laws.
Trump claimed that Cohen bore responsibility for any violations of criminal law but also asserted that Cohen “probably was not guilty” of even civil violations related to the payments to former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal and adult-film star Stormy Daniels — a view at odds with that of many lawyers who specialize in campaign finance law.
“Those charges were just agreed to by him in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence, which he did,” Trump alleged.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday for what U.S. District Judge William Pauley called a “veritable smorgasbord of criminal conduct” — crimes that included tax violations and lying to a bank as well as those related to the hush-money payments.
“I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law,” Trump said. “He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called ‘advice of counsel,’ and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid.”
In his three tweets Thursday morning, Trump made no mention of a cooperation deal announced Thursday between federal prosecutors and the National Enquirer’s parent company, in which it acknowledged paying money to McDougal to “suppress the woman’s story” and “prevent it from influencing the election.”
Prosecutors announced that they would not prosecute the company, American Media Inc. (AMI), for its role in a scheme to tilt the presidential race in favor of Trump. In the agreement, AMI said it would cooperate with prosecutors and admitted it paid $150,000 to McDougal before the 2016 election to silence her allegations of an affair with Trump.
The deal signaled the unraveling of the deep relationship Trump and AMI chief executive David Pecker had forged over decades. It also made clear that Pecker, whose tabloid strongly supported Trump’s candidacy, has turned on the president.
Daniels was paid $130,000 to silence her about an alleged decade-old dalliance with Trump. Cohen facilitated the payments.
“Michael has great liability to me!” Trump wrote in his tweets Thursday.
Washington Post writers Sarah Ellison and Paul Farhi contributed to this report.