Donald Trump knew it was wrong to make hush money payments during the 2016 campaign, Michael Cohen told ABC News Friday, but he directed his former attorney to do it anyway.
In his first public comments since being sentenced to three years in prison for nine felonies, including lying to Congress and two campaign finance violations, Cohen said Trump’s claims that he never instructed him to do anything wrong were nonsense.
“I don't think there is anybody that believes that,” he told George Stephanopoulos. “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.”
“Of course” Trump knew it was wrong to make the payments, Cohen added, noting that the candidate was "very concerned about how this would affect the election."
“People of the United States of America, people of the world, don't believe what he is saying. The man doesn't tell the truth,” he said.
Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York said that Cohen acted “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump, named in court filings as “Individual-1” to make payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who claim they had slept with the then-businessman.
Prosecutors argued that those deals, effectively intended to help Trump’s campaign, amounted to campaign finance violations.
Cohen pleaded guilty to the charges in November.
Trump, who denies he had affairs with the woman, has given various accounts of when he learned of the payments, insisted they were not connected to his campaign, and said that any culpability for the deals lies with his former attorney.
“I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law,” Trump said in a tweetstorm targeted at his former fixer Thursday.
“I did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws, if they even apply, because this was not campaign finance.”
Cohen refuted that Friday, saying Trump instructed him to make the payments because he didn't want the claims to hit the media during the election.
Cohen’s comments came after CNN and NBC reported Thursday that Trump was the third person in the room at a critical August 2015 meeting at which Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker discussed how to quash the women’s stories — a plan federal prosecutors say was a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.
Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that they had agreed not to prosecute American Media Inc., the Enquirer's parent company, over the campaign finance violations in return for its cooperation.
As part of that agreement, American Media Inc., admitted Pecker offered to assist the campaign by identifying potentially damaging stories about Trump’s relations with women so they could be exclusively bought and buried.
Trump was first placed at the meeting by a report in The Wall Street Journal last month.
Asked by ABC Friday why his account should be believed after a conviction for lying, Cohen said his cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe had shown he was telling the truth.
“The special counsel stated emphatically that the information that I gave to them is credible and helpful. There is a substantial amount of information that they possessed that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth,” he said.
“I’m done with the lying. I am done with being loyal to Donald Trump.”
As for whether Trump was telling the truth about the special counsel’s investigation, Cohen was unequivocal. “No,” he replied.
Cover image: A screen grab from the ABC News interview with former Trump lawyer Michael cohen.