WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump tried on Wednesday to disassociate himself from the federal crime in which he was implicated this week by his former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, saying that his authorizing two payments of hush money to two women during the 2016 presidential campaign were not violations of election finance laws.
One day after Cohen pleaded guilty to several charges and accused the president of having directed him to pay the two women to ensure their silence about the alleged affairs he had had with them, Trump downplayed the case and accused his ex-lawyer of lying.
“If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” the president said Wednesday morning on Twitter, where he accused the attorney of having “broken” under pressure from prosecutors and “(making) up stories in order to get a (plea) ‘deal.’”
A few hours later, Trump questioned Cohen’s version – which had been given under oath – that his payment to the two women, which appears to be a violation of campaign finance laws, was made “at the direction of the candidate,” referring to the mogul, and “for the principal purpose of influencing the election,” thus explicitly implicating the candidate and now-president in those potential crimes.
“Later on I knew (about the payments). Later on. ... they weren’t taken out of the campaign finance, that’s the big thing,” Trump told Fox News on Wednesday. “They didn’t come out of the campaign, they came from me,” that is, from his personal savings.
“My first question when I heard about it was, did they come out of the campaign, because that could be a little dicey,” said Trump.
However, the apparent fact that the money did not come from his campaign funds does not mean that Trump did not violate the law, which obligates him to disclose any payment – including ones coming from personal funds – that is related to the campaign, such as in the case of silencing a sexual scandal involving Trump shortly before the election.
The two women, although not identified in Cohen’s plea, appear to be former Playboy model Karen McDougal and porn actress Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford).
In an apparent attempt to dampen the political firestorm surrounding the matter, Trump also tweeted that “President (Barack) Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!”
The president was referring, apparently, to the $375,000 fine that Obama’s campaign had to pay in 2013 for not informing federal authorities within 48 hours of receiving 1,300 donations totaling $1.8 million.
But that case was concluded via civil avenues with the immediate payment of the fine, while the charges against Cohen are criminal and were only elucidated in court.
Most US experts examining the situation in recent hours agree that if Trump were not president he would already have been indicted as a co-conspirator in Cohen’s illegal payments to the two women.
However, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders emphasized multiple times at her daily press briefing that Trump “did nothing wrong, there are no charges against him.”
“Just because Michael Cohen made a plea deal, doesn’t implicate the president on anything,” said Sanders.