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Michael Cohen: 'Of course' Trump knew hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal were wrong

Key Points
  • Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer, isn't buying the president's defense of hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal.
  • "Of course" Trump knew the payments were wrong, Cohen tells ABC's "Good Morning America."
  • After Cohen's sentencing, Trump attacked him, saying he "never directed" his former lawyer to break the law – and that the campaign-finance charges to which Cohen pleaded guilty were intended to embarrass the president.
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National Enquirer publisher given immunity over hush-money payment

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer, isn't buying the president's defense of his alleged role in hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal.

"Of course" Trump knew the payments were wrong, a morose Cohen told ABC's "Good Morning America" in an interview that was slated to air Friday morning. "First of all, nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me to make the payments, he directed me to become involved in these matters."

Cohen also said Trump had him coordinate the payments, which came weeks before Election Day 2016, because he was worried about the potential impact of revelations about his alleged trysts with the women. "Yes, he was very concerned about how this would affect the election," Cohen said.

Prosecutors and Cohen said Trump directed the lawyer to handle the illegal payments to Daniels and McDougal. After the sentencing, Trump attacked Cohen on social media and in an interview with Fox News, saying he "never directed" Cohen to break the law – and that the campaign-finance charges to which Cohen pleaded guilty were intended to embarrass the president. Trump said those payments weren't even illegal.

A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Cohen interview.

VIDEO1:2601:26
Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen sentenced for Stormy Daniels case, Russia project and other crimes

The interview marked Cohen's first comments to the media since he was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for federal charges including campaign-finance violations, tax fraud and lying to Congress. He is scheduled to report to prison March 6.

Cohen, who worked for Trump for over a decade and had once said he would take a bullet for the man, poses a major threat to the president. Cohen has told prosecutors that he worked to cover up Trump's alleged "dirty deeds," and the lawyer continues to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

"I gave loyalty to someone who, truthfully, does not deserve loyalty," Cohen told ABC.

His cooperation is fueling other cases that could imperil Trump, too. Thursday night, The Wall Street Journal reported that federal investigators, acting in part because of evidence collected from a raid on Cohen's office and residence in April, had opened up a criminal probe into possible financial crimes involving alleged foreign contributions for Trump's inauguration.

In another dire sign for Trump, federal prosecutors announced that they had granted immunity to American Media, the publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid, in connection to the McDougal payments. David Pecker, CEO of the company, was a friend of Trump's. He had previously been granted immunity, according to media reports. NBC News, citing a source, and other media outlets reported that Trump was in the room with Cohen and Pecker during discussions about how to help the campaign keep women quiet about their alleged affairs with the then-candidate.

In the interview, Cohen tried to deflect some of the blame in the hush-money scandal. "It was really between him and David Pecker," Cohen told ABC. "I just reviewed the documents." A tape released earlier this year, which features Trump and his lawyer discussing potential payments, indicates that Cohen was involved in a bigger way than reviewing documents, however.

In a case brought by federal prosecutors by the Southern District of New York, Cohen pleaded guilty to most of the charges in August. In the plea, he admitted he paid off the two women, who allege having sexual relationships with the president a decade ago, in coordination with Trump. The White House has denied the affairs happened.

Then, in a deal with Mueller in late November, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Organization's discussions with Russia to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

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Trump underreported payments to Cohen in disclosures, a potential violation

Mueller is investigating the Russian attacks on the 2016 election and potential coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. Trump has repeatedly denied colluding with the Russians. He has dubbed the Mueller probe a "witch hunt." Asked whether Trump was telling the truth about the Russia probe, Cohen told ABC: "No."

Cohen is one of several close Trump associates who have pleaded guilty to federal crimes related to the president's 2016 campaign.

Michael Flynn, a top Trump surrogate during the election and the president's one-time national security advisor, is due to be sentenced Tuesday. He has been cooperating with Mueller's probe for more than a year, and the special counsel is seeking little to no prison time for the retired general.

Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chief, awaits sentencing next year in two federal cases stemming from the Mueller investigation. He had reached a plea agreement with the special counsel, but Mueller's team pulled the plug on the deal after accusing Manafort of lying on several occasions after he started cooperating with the feds. Manafort's charges were not directly related to his work with Trump.