“He directed me to make the payments. He directed me to become involved in these matters,” Michael Cohen, who was sentenced to three years in prison this week over crimes committed while working for Trump, told ABC News in an interview aired on Friday.
Asked whether Trump understood at the time that the payment was wrong, Cohen replied “of course.” That understanding is significant because the campaign finance violations Cohen was convicted of require an understanding on the part of the alleged perpetrator that the act is criminal.
Trump appears to face legal jeopardy if he knowingly directed Cohen to break the law, as Cohen asserts, by arranging for payments to be made in October 2016 to the porn actor Stormy Daniels and the former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who have alleged affairs with the president. Trump denies the allegations.
Trump claimed on Thursday he never directed Cohen to break the law, in contradiction of an assertion in court by federal prosecutors last week. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani downplayed the campaign finance violations, which are federal felonies, telling the Daily Beast, “Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed… This was not a big crime.”
Cohen sat with ABC News shortly after his sentencing on Wednesday, at which a judge ordered him to report to prison by 6 March.
Cohen said he was “angry at himself” for his role in the deals, but that he did it out of “blind loyalty” to Trump. “I gave loyalty to someone who, truthfully, does not deserve loyalty,” he said.
Trump has denied directing his former lawyer and fixer to break the law, tweeting on Thursday: “I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law.”
He claimed in an interview with Fox News that he “did nothing wrong” and said prosecutors had cooked up the charges to embarrass him.
“It is absolutely not true,” Cohen said. “Under no circumstances do I want to embarrass the president. He knows the truth. I know the truth.”
In response to Trump’s claim he never directed Cohen to do anything wrong, he said: “I don’t think there is anybody that believes that. First of all, nothing at the Trump organisation 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 knows the truth. I know the truth. Others know the truth,” Cohen continued. “And here is the truth: 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. And it is sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.”
Cohen, 52, admitted in August that on the eve of the 2016 presidential election he made a $130,000 payment to porn actor Daniels and arranged for a $150,000 payment to former Playboy model McDougal. He pleaded guilty to eight federal crimes, and later pleaded guilty to an additional count of lying to Congress.
Cohen is cooperating with authorities, and the special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has said he provided valuable information for their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion with members of Trump’s campaign.