President Donald Trump publicly denied on Thursday that he had instructed Michael Cohen, the attorney who spent many years working as his personal "fixer," to break the law during the 2016 presidential campaign by buying the silence of two women who alleged affairs with the future commander-in-chief.
In a series of morning tweets, Trump once again, attempted to downplay the crimes that Cohen had pleaded guilty to and implicated the president in. He said that Cohen bore responsibility for any campaign finance violations, although he simultaneously claimed that Cohen was "probably was not guilty even on a civil basis" of hush-payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal.
The $130,000 payment to Daniels and $150,000 payment to McDougal are considered by the government to be an illegal donation to Trump's campaign, since they were allegedly intended to improve Trump's election chances. The legal limit for individual contributions is $2,700 in a general election.
Trump on Thursday claimed that "many campaign finance lawyers have strongly stated that I did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws" — a view that is at odds with many attorneys who specialize in campaign finance law — and declared campaign finance rules do not apply in this case.
Earlier this week, Trump insisted that the hush-money payments to women were "a simple private transaction" rather than a violation of campaign finance law. He also said that, even if the hush-money payments were campaign transactions, any failure to obey federal election regulations should be considered only a civil offense – not a criminal one. However, those actions could imperil the president if he knew in advance about the payments.
"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 wrote on Twitter.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday for what U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III called a "smorgasbord" of crimes, involving lying to Congress about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, tax evasion, making false statements to a bank and campaign finance violations stemming from payments to two women who alleged affairs with Trump during the 2016 presidential election.
Trump's Thursday tweets were his first public remarks about Cohen since his Wednesday morning sentencing. On Wednesday afternoon, the president ignored questions shouted by reporters at the White house about Cohen, who was previously one of Trump's most loyal and ardent defenders in business in politics.
"I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law," the president tweeted on Thursday. "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."
Trump's former personal lawyer received a reduced sentence, because he pleaded guilty and cooperated with federal prosecutors. Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance charges last month and admitted that he paid off adult film actress Stormy Daniels "at the direction of the candidate," referring to Trump, "for the principal purpose of influencing the election" for president in 2016. Cohen also admitted he arranged a $150,000 payment by American Media, Inc. (AMI), the parent company of the National Enquirer, to former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal in late summer 2016 to silence her about an alleged affair she claims she had with Trump. On Wednesday, AMI admitted it paid hush money to McDougal before the 2016 election and said it would cooperate with prosecutors.
In his three tweets Thursday morning, the president did not mention the cooperation agreement announced Wednesday between federal prosecutors and AMI. The deal pointed to the unraveling of the deep relationship Trump and AMI chief executive David Pecker had established since the 1990s. It also suggested that Pecker, who ran articles depicting Trump as a potentially positive force for America, has flipped on the president.
"Michael has great liability to me!" Trump wrote in his tweets Thursday.