U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday he "never directed" his former personal attorney Michael Cohen "to break the law," a day after Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison, in part for helping make payments to two women, alleging they had affairs with Trump, to stay silent before the 2016 election.
In a string of Twitter comments, Trump said Cohen, who worked for him for 12 years, was "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."
Cohen had pleaded guilty to arranging $280,000 in payments, at Trump's direction, to adult firm star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, but the payments were not reported as campaign donations. Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump's efforts in early 2016 to build a Moscow skyscraper, to mimic Trump's false claim to voters that he had no Russian business ventures.
Trump contended that the hush money payments were not criminal. He later told Fox News the charges were brought by prosecutors "to embarrass me. I never directed him to do anything incorrect or wrong."
Trump tweeted, "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 said. "Cohen was guilty on many charges unrelated to me, but he (pled) to two campaign charges which were not criminal and of which he probably was not guilty even on a civil basis."
The U.S. leader said, "Those charges were just agreed to by him in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence, which he did -- including the fact that his family was temporarily let off the hook. As a lawyer, Michael has great liability to me!"
Cohen was sentenced Wednesday after telling a federal judge that his "blind loyalty" to Trump led him to "cover up his dirty deeds."
Trump, in his tweets, did not address Cohen's claim, nor what New York prosecutors say was then-candidate Trump's involvement in making a $150,000 payment to McDougal through American Media Inc.
The company is the owner of the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer, which bought McDougal's story of her alleged 2006-2007 affair with Trump with the express purpose of then killing it so it would not surface before Election Day in November 2016, to boost Trump's chances of winning the White House.
American Media reached a deal with prosecutors to avoid prosecution and cooperate with them in disclosing its role with Trump in making the payment to McDougal.
As part of its agreement with prosecutors, AMI agreed to fully cooperate with authorities, including making officers and employees available for testimony and pledging to turn over any documents or other evidence as requested.
Legal analysts said the developments could strengthen a potential case against Trump himself if prosecutors were to pursue one, although Justice Department guidelines say that a sitting president cannot be charged criminally until he leaves office.
Cohen is the closest figure to Trump sentenced to prison in the wide-ranging investigations of Trump's 2016 campaign, its possible links to Russia and whether, as president, Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probes being conducted by federal prosecutors in New York and special counsel Robert Mueller in Washington.
Several other prominent Trump figures, including his former campaign chairman and his first national security adviser, have yet to be sentenced for various offenses.
U.S. Judge William Pauley told the 52-year-old Cohen that somewhere along the way, he had "lost his moral compass."
Cohen once bragged that he would "take a bullet" to support Trump. More recently, however, Cohen had turned against Trump and said at his sentencing that working for Trump was a "personal and mental incarceration."
Prosecutors said that Cohen, at Trump's direction, facilitated the payments — in violation of campaign finance laws — to Daniels and McDougal shortly before the 2016 election to buy their silence about alleged liaisons with Trump a decade before he ran for the presidency.
The prosecutors said American Media knew corporations such as itself were subject to campaign finance laws that forbid payments "made for purposes of influencing an election and in coordination with or at the request of a candidate or campaign," and that it did not report the payment to the Federal Election Commission.
Campaign finance laws require campaign contributions to be disclosed and bar individual donations of more than $2,700.
Cohen attorney Lanny Davis said that after Mueller completes his investigation, Cohen would cooperate with congressional committees as they consider possible wrongdoing by Trump and his aides. Some Democrats in the House of Representatives have called for Trump's impeachment when they assume control of the chamber next month.
"Mr. Trump's repeated lies cannot contradict stubborn facts," Davis said.