Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer, says he is being forced to take responsibility for Trump's "dirty deeds." Cohen says that not only did the then-candidate direct him to arrange hush-money payments to two women — but that Trump knew it was illegal.
Noting that the hush-money payments were made "two weeks or so before the election, post the Billy Bush comments" about Trump's treatment of women, Cohen tells NBC's George Stephanopoulos, "so yes, he was very concerned about how this would affect the election."
Cohen spoke about the president and real estate mogul one day after being sentenced to three years in federal prison for his actions as Trump's attorney during the 2016 presidential campaign. He says Trump was well aware of his actions to arrange payoffs to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playmate Karen McDougal, to keep them from publicly accusing Trump of having affairs.
Asked if Trump tried to hide what Cohen was doing, the lawyer replied, "Correct." As for whether Trump knew it was illegal, he said, "Of course."
Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong, saying early Thursday, "I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law."
To that, Cohen responded:
"I don't think there's anybody that believes that. First of all, nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me — as I said in my allocution and I said as well in the plea — he directed me to make the payments he directed me to become involved in these matters, including the one with McDougal, which was really between him and David Pecker, and then David Pecker's counsel. "I just reviewed the documents in order to protect him. I gave loyalty to someone who truthfully does not deserve loyalty."
Pecker, the CEO of American Media, met with Cohen as early as August of 2015, when he offered to help Trump muzzle women who might accuse the candidate of affairs — a plan that included buying exclusive rights to their stories, prosecutors said this week.
Trump also said Cohen admitted to the criminal charges — which range from campaign finance crimes to tax evasion and bank fraud — "to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence."
Cohen responded to that accusation in his interview, "It's absolutely not true. I did not do it to embarrass the president. He knows the truth. I know the truth. Many people know the truth. Under no circumstances do I want to embarrass the president of the United States of America."
Growing visibly angry, Cohen added, "The truth is, I told the truth. I took responsibility for my actions. And instead of him taking responsibility for his actions, what does he do? He attacks my family."
When he was reminded that Trump had also repeated those claims in an interview on Fox News, Cohen called it "inaccurate."
He added, "Here's the truth: The people of the United States of America — the people of the world — don't believe what he's saying. The man doesn't tell the truth. And it's sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds."
Repeating something he said in court Wednesday, Cohen said he feels unburdened by acknowledging what he did for Trump.
"I have my freedom," he said, adding, "I will not be the villain of his story."
As part of his agreement with prosecutors, Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress when he said negotiations he and other Trump aides held with powerful Russians about a potential real estate project in Moscow had not continued well into the 2016 presidential campaign.
When asked why the American public should now believe Cohen is telling the truth, he replied, "Because the special counsel [Robert Mueller] stated emphatically that the information that I gave to them was credible and helpful."
"There's a substantial amount of information that they possess that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth," Cohen said.
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