U.S. President Donald Trump says he, not his campaign, paid hush money through his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in 2016 — just days prior to his election, but he asserts he did not know it at the time.
"Later on I knew," Trump has told Fox News Channel.
Part of the interview was released by Fox on Wednesday afternoon. In the clip the president insists campaign funds were not used for the payments to two women who claimed they had affairs with him.
"That could be a little dicey," said Trump of the use of campaign funds and then insisted, however, "it's not even a campaign violation."
Cohen told a federal judge on Tuesday in New York City that he made the payments to two women "for the principal purpose of influencing the election" of Trump and that the presidential candidate ordered him to do so.
Legal filings released allege Trump's real estate company authorized paying $420,000 to Cohen for the effort to silence the women who claimed they had affairs with the Republican candidate. Bogus invoices that allegedly concealed the nature of the payments could further focus direct prosecutorial scrutiny on both Trump's company and his campaign.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, responding to a barrage of questions from reporters at a Wednesday afternoon briefing, repeatedly said the president had done nothing wrong and it is a "ridiculous accusation" to suggest the president previously lied about his knowledge of the payments.
"There are no charges against him in this and just because Michael Cohen made a plea deal doesn't mean that that implicates the president on anything," Sanders said.
Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, in a series of media interviews on Wednesday, indicated his client would cooperate with the special counsel's investigation and could implicate Trump in other wrongdoing.
Cohen's plea did not include an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors, but Davis, on Twitter, said his client "would tell the truth about Donald Trump."
Trump is publicly downplaying the significance of Cohen and his former campaign manager becoming felons.
In a series of Wednesday morning tweets, Trump again assailed his own Justice Department for carrying out a "witch hunt" and praised Paul Manafort, who the president said refused to break and make up stories to get a deal as did Cohen.
Manafort, who ran Trump's 2016 election campaign for three pivotal months, is likely to be sentenced to years, if not decades, of prison time after his conviction on eight fraud charges. Manafort also faces a second trial on a different set of charges next month in Washington.
Trump noted that 10 of the 18 charges could not be decided in Manafort's case, for which the judge yesterday in Alexandria, Virginia, declared a mistrial. But veteran federal prosecutors say the eight convictions for financial crimes validate the special counsel established to investigate ties between Trump's campaign and Russia.
Many legal and political observers expect Trump to eventually pardon Manafort, whose case was the first to be brought to trial by Robert Mueller, the former director of the FBI, whose team repeatedly has been and heavily criticized by the president.
"There have been no discussions at the White House" about a pardon for Manafort, replied Sanders to a question about that possibility.
Besides Cohen, three other men who worked for Trump also have pleaded guilty to crimes: former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates and a campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos.
The growing legal storm buffeting the unconventional president is increasing speculation that opposition Democrats will commence impeachment proceedings should they capture a majority in the House of Representatives in the midterm elections less than three months away.
"The idea of an impeachment is frankly a sad attempt by Democrats — the only message they seem to have going into the midterms," said Sanders during Wednesday's briefing.