WASHINGTON — Michael Cohen claims that Donald Trump knew that hush money payments made to two women in advance of the 2016 election were wrong.
Appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America” for his first interview since being sentenced to three years in prison, Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, said that when payments were being arranged for Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, “I knew what I was doing was wrong.” He added that in pleading guilty, “I accepted the responsibility for my actions.”
Asked if Trump knew that the payments were wrong, Cohen said, “of course.” He said that Trump was “very concerned” about the impact that the women’s claims would have on the presidential campaign. McDougal and Daniels claim they had sexual relations and extramarital affairs with Trump.The payments were arranged to buy their silence.
Cohen plead guilty to a series of charges, including campaign finance violations stemming from the payments. AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer, has signed a non-prosecution agreement and admitted that it was involved in a “concerted” effort with Cohen to buy the exclusive rights to McDougal’s story for $150,000. The scheme is commonly referred to as “catch and kill,” in which a tabloid buys the rights to a person’s story but the real purpose is to never publish the information and instead conceal it. As part of a non-prosecution agreement, AMI agreed that the “principal purpose” of the agreement with McDougal was to “suppress” her story so it did not influence the election.
Cohen was all involved in an effort to pay $130,000 to Daniels to keep her quiet, but AMI was not part of that transaction, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors have not charged Trump for his role in the payments, but say that Cohen acted at the “direction” of Trump.
On Thursday, Trump wrote on Twitter, “I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. 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. Despite that many campaign finance lawyers have strongly stated that I did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws, if they even apply, because this was not campaign finance.”
Trump also claimed that Cohen agreed to plead guilty in order to “embarrass him.”
In the interview, though, Cohen denied that. “He knows the truth. I know the truth.”
He said that in the Trump Organization, nothing 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.”
He also said that Trump “doesn’t tell the truth, and it is sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.”
Cohen has assisted Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign.
He noted that Mueller has found the information he provided credible, and that Mueller’s team possesses “a substantial amount of information that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth.”
Cohen also said that Trump is not telling the truth about Russia, and that he himself is “done with the lying. I’m done with President Trump.”
Cohen is scheduled to report to serve his term on March 6