Trump: Campaign finance charges against Cohen were meant 'to embarrass me' 

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump again asserted that he bears no responsibility for the campaign finance violations committed by his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he departs the White House, November 9, 2018.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

President Donald Trump on Thursday again asserted that he bears no responsibility for the campaign finance violations committed by his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

"They put that on to embarrass me. They put those two charges on to embarrass me. They're not criminal charges. What happened is either Cohen or the prosecutors, in order to embarrass me, said: 'Listen, I'm making this deal for reduced time and everything else. Do me a favor and put these two charges on,'" Trump claimed in an interview with Fox News.

Trump made the comments one day after Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for crimes that included tax evasion, lying to Congress, and setting up illegal hush-money payments to women who claimed they had had affairs with Trump. The president's remarks expanded on an accusation he had made earlier in the day. 

Cohen has acknowledged that the hush-money payments were made in order to protect Trump from damaging allegations during the 2016 presidential election. Given that their purpose was to aid Trump's candidacy, the payments constituted contributions to Trump's presidential campaign. By not declaring them, Cohen violated campaign finance laws.

Cohen's transformation from loyal foot soldier for Trump into witness for the prosecution and asset to the special counsel's investigation has been one of the most dramatic story lines of the entire Mueller probe.

During his sentencing on Wednesday, Cohen told the judge that during his decade of working as Trump's attorney, he felt a sense of "duty to cover up [Trump's] dirty deeds."

The president, meanwhile, has publicly railed against his former consigliere ever since Cohen agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. On Thursday, Trump tweeted a defense of himself that appeared to have been carefully scripted, perhaps with the help of one of the president's current lawyers.

"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. That is why they get paid. Despite that 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 tweeted.

"Cohen was guilty on many charges unrelated to me, but he plead to two campaign charges which were not criminal and of which he probably was not guilty even on a civil basis. 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!"