Sunday 20 October 2019

I never told ex-lawyer and fixer Cohen to break any law, claims Trump

US President Donald Trump. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Terence Dopp in New York

US President Donald Trump said he never directed his former personal attorney Michael Cohen to break the law, saying that as a lawyer he is supposed to know what's legal and what's not.

"I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called 'advice of counsel', and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made," Mr Trump wrote yesterday on Twitter. "That is why they get paid."

Cohen was given a three-year prison sentence on Wednesday after pleading guilty to breaking campaign finance laws by arranging hush payments to women who alleged affairs with Trump, as well as lying to Congress and banks.

Mr Trump in subsequent tweets yesterday said he "did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws, even if they apply" and that the charges against Cohen "were not criminal".

He further said of Cohen: "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."

Cohen's attorney Lanny Davis said on Wednesday that he was willing to reveal publicly what he knows about Mr Trump once special counsel Robert Mueller's probe is finished. The special counsel's team interviewed Cohen for about 70 hours, but little is known about what he shared.

Story time: Melania Trump receives applause from Tearrianna Cooke-Starkey during the traditional first lady’s visit to the Children’s National Hospital in Washington. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Story time: Melania Trump receives applause from Tearrianna Cooke-Starkey during the traditional first lady’s visit to the Children’s National Hospital in Washington. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Cohen has admitted to lying to Congress and Mueller's investigators about the timing of a proposed Trump tower in Moscow and Mr Trump's involvement in the project.

Mr Davis said that false testimony was shared with the White House before Cohen submitted it to Congress and it is possible Mr Trump was aware at the time that Cohen would make false statements.

Cohen pleaded guilty in New York in August, saying that "Individual-1" (widely identified as Mr Trump) schemed to silence two women about affairs with the Republican candidate before the 2016 election. Cohen acknowledged that such payments amounted to illegal campaign donations - and said he arranged for them at Mr Trump's behest.

It was also revealed in court filings on Wednesday related to Cohen that at least one unidentified aide to Mr Trump's presidential campaign joined the attorney in an August 2015 meeting with the publisher of the 'National Enquirer' to discuss suppressing negative news stories during the election.

The sentencing leaves Mr Trump in a much weakened position. It means he is now bereft of two of his most powerful protectors - his long-time lawyer Cohen and the company that owns the 'National Enquirer' tabloid, bringing a perilous investigation into his campaign one step closer to the Oval Office.

Both Cohen and American Media Inc (AMI) now admit to making hush money payments to a porn star and a 'Playboy' Playmate for the purposes of helping his 2016 White House bid, which is a clear campaign finance violation. The women alleged affairs with Mr Trump, and federal prosecutors say the payments were made at Mr Trump's direction.

The admissions by Cohen and AMI conflict with Mr Trump's own evolving explanations. Since the spring, Mr Trump has gone from denying knowledge of any payments to saying they would have been private transactions that weren't illegal. Though prosecutors have implicated Mr Trump in a crime, they haven't directly accused him of one, and it's not clear that they could bring charges against a sitting president even if they want to, because of Justice Department protocol.

Nonetheless, Mr Trump's changing explanations have clouded the public understanding of what occurred and are running head-on into facts agreed to by prosecutors, AMI and Cohen.

"You now have a second defendant or group of defendants saying that these payments were made for the primary purpose of influencing the election, and that it was done in co-ordination with Trump and his campaign," said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News