Updated 3:01 p.m. | Donald Trump has broken his silence about campaign finance violations his former attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to Tuesday.
The president’s claims do not align with laws Cohen admitted to breaking. Trump also continued to deny knowing about payments Cohen made to two women — one an adult film star, the other a model — during the homestretch of the 2016 presidential election when those monetary transactions were made. During a plea hearing Tuesday, Cohen told a federal judge he made those payments at Trump’s direction with the intent of influencing the election.
“But you have to understand … what he did, and they weren’t taken out of campaign finance,” Trump said of Cohen, his longtime fixer of messy predicaments. “That’s a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They didn’t come out of the campaign. They came from me.”
Not exactly. At least, not at first.
Documents filed by federal prosecutors that explain the crimes to which Cohen pleaded guilty clearly explain the crime was the amount of the payments, which exceeded limits on campaign contributions that can go directly to candidates.
“They didn’t come out of campaign,” he told Fox News in an interview filed Wednesday and set to run Thursday morning. “My first question when I heard about it was, ‘Did they come out of the campaign?’ Because that could be a little dicey. … It’s not even a campaign violation.”
The president appeared to try to create his own narrative about how Cohen obtained and moved around the dollars used to pay the women in return for their silence. But the federal prosecutors’ documents spell out just why Cohen’s actions were indeed violations of campaign finance laws.
Trump’s top spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, declined to comment on Trump’s comment in the Fox interview. But she did tell reporters during a rare press briefing that Trump “has done nothing wrong” and there are “no charges against him.”
Asked if Trump, who initially denied any knowledge of the payments, lied to the American people about the matter, Sanders responded this way: “I think that’s a ridiculous accusation.”
Sanders characterized some Democratic lawmakers’ and candidates’ calling for Trump’s impeachment as “sad,” adding it is the “only message they have going into the midterms.”
The president also again claimed he did not know about the payments when Cohen made them. But his former lawyer released an audio recording of a phone conversation in which a man who sounds very much like Trump instructs him to pay by check.
In May, Trump and one of his new attorneys admitted he reimbursed his longtime fixer for a payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, a striking reversal from what the president said just a few weeks before.
At the time, Rudolph Giuliani, Trump’s new lead personal attorney, contended the payment to Daniels and alleged reimbursement “is going to turn out to be perfectly legal. … That money was not campaign money. ... No campaign finance violation.”
But campaign finance experts have said Trump’s and Giuliani’s comments do not clear up campaign finance violation questions.
Meanwhile, another topic during Sanders’ briefing was the Tuesday conviction of Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chief, on eight counts of tax evasion and bank fraud. Trump has spoken out in support of Manafort since the conviction was announced, which his critics in the past have viewed as messages to his former aides he might pardon them if they do not talk to federal investigators.
Trump and White House officials have not discussed a possible pardon for his convicted former campaign boss, Paul Manafort, according to Sanders. But when pressed, she would not rule it out.