WASHINGTON — President Trump told “Fox & Friends” host Ainsley Earhardt that he knew “later on” about payments that his then-attorney Michael Cohen arranged to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
“But you have to understand, Ainsley, what he did — and they weren’t taken out of campaign finance, that’s the big thing,” Trump said in the interview, conducted at the White House on Wednesday. “That’s a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They didn’t come out of the campaign, they came from me. And I tweeted about it.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to say when Trump learned about the payments and referred questions to Trump’s outside counsel, Rudy Giuliani.
On Tuesday, Cohen plead guilty to eight counts, including two campaign finance violations, and told a federal judge that he arranged the payments to Daniels and McDougal “in coordination with and at the direction” of Trump. He said he did so “for the principal purpose of influencing the election,” as the two women claimed to have had affairs with Trump.
In late April, Trump denied that he had knowledge of the $130,000 payment to Daniels. In July, Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, made public a secretly recorded conversation that Cohen had with Trump in 2016 in which they are heard discussing the McDougal payment.
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According to the indictment, Cohen asked for reimbursement, and was paid in $35,000-per-month increments over 2017, totaling $420,000. But the payments were made under the auspices that they were a retainer for legal work that year, even though they were not.
After Cohen sent the first of the monthly invoices to the Trump Organization, federal prosecutors said “executive-1 forwarded that email to another employee at the Company, stating: ‘Please pay from the Trust. Post to legal expenses. Put ‘retainer for the months of January and February 2017’ in the description.'”
One of the legal issues in Cohen’s indictment is that the payments amounted to a campaign contribution, and one that was not reported to the Federal Election Commission. That would include reimbursement for those payments, whether or not they came from campaign or personal funds.
At the White House briefing, Sanders said more than a half dozen times that “the president did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him.”
Trump told Earhardt that the payments did not come out of campaign funds and “my first question when I heard about it was did they come out of the campaign because that could be a little dicey.”
“It’s not even a campaign violation,” Trump said. “If you look at President Obama, he had a massive campaign violation but he had a different attorney general and they viewed it a lot differently.”
The full interview will air Thursday morning.
Earhardt also asked Trump if the press is the “enemy of the people.”
“No, not at all but the fake news is and the fake news is comprised of — it’s a lot — it’s a big chunk, OK? Somebody said what’s the chunk,” he said. “I said 80%. It’s a lot. It’s a lot. If I do something well, it’s not reported. Other than in the 20%. I mean, The New York Times cannot write a good story about me. They’re crazed. They’re like lunatics.”