WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has offered shifting explanations about hush payments made by his former attorney Michael Cohen to two women who alleged they had affairs with the future president. First, he denied knowing about them. Later, he called them a perfectly legal “private transaction.”
Cohen, who this week was sentenced to three years in prison, says he made the payments to help Trump’s 2016 White House bid, a campaign finance violation. Federal prosecutors say the payments were made at Trump’s direction.
Trump acknowledges the Daniels payment for the first time, tweeting: “Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA.”
Trump says the agreements are “very common among celebrities and people of wealth,” and “this was a private agreement.”
A recording surfaces of Cohen and Trump allegedly discussing a payment to Playboy Playmate Karen MacDougal. Trump suggests, without evidence, that the tape may have been doctored, tweeting: “What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So sad! Is this a first, never heard of it before? Why was the tape so abruptly terminated (cut) while I was presumably saying positive things? I hear there are other clients and many reporters that are taped – can this be so? Too bad!”
Cohen pleads guilty to campaign finance violations and other charges, saying he and Trump arranged the payments of hush money to Daniels and McDougal to influence the election. That next day, Trump argues that making the payments wasn’t a crime and that the matter was a civil dispute, then takes a swipe at his former employee. He tweets: “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!”
Trump compares his situation to one involving President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and the Federal Election Commission, which typically handles smaller campaign finance violations, where the actions aren’t willful, with civil penalties that are typically fines. The agency docked the Obama campaign $375,000 for regulatory civil violations stemming from the campaign’s failure to report a batch of contributions, totaling nearly $1.9 million, on time in the final days of the campaign.
The accusations against Trump, legal analysts say, could amount to a felony because they revolve around an alleged conspiracy to conceal payments from campaign contribution reports and from voters. It’s unclear what federal prosecutors in New York will decide to do if they conclude that there is evidence that Trump himself committed a crime.
A day after Cohen’s sentencing, Trump declares on Twitter: “I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law” and argues 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.” He adds, in an interview on Fox, regarding Cohen: “I never directed him to do anything wrong. Whatever he did, he did on his own.”