The White House pushed back forcefully on Wednesday against suggestions that a plea deal struck by President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen implicated Trump in a crime, Reuters reports.
“As the president has said, we’ve stated many times, he did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said at a White House briefing.
“Just because Michael Cohen made a plea deal doesn’t mean that that implicates the president on anything.”
Cohen on Tuesday pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges of tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations.
He told a federal court in Manhattan that Trump directed him to arrange payments ahead of the 2016 presidential election to silence two women who said they had affairs with Trump.
On Wednesday, Trump lashed out at Cohen, saying in a Twitter post that the campaign finance violations Cohen pleaded guilty to in a New York court were not a crime – even though prosecutors and Cohen agreed that they were. Trump made the claim without offering any evidence.
At the same time, the president praised former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted on Tuesday of multiple counts of fraud, as a “brave man” for not cooperating with federal authorities.
Fox News released excerpts of an interview conducted with Trump on Wednesday in which the president said he knew of the payments made by Cohen “later on” but did not elaborate.
After first denying that he knew anything about Cohen’s actions, Trump earlier this year acknowledged he reimbursed Cohen for payments he made in late 2016 to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Daniels has alleged she had a relationship with Trump.
In July, CNN released an audio recording reportedly made by Cohen that features the lawyer and Trump in September 2016 discussing whether to buy the rights to the story of Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who also has alleged an affair with Trump.
The president has insisted he paid Cohen out of personal funds and that the payments were not intended to benefit his campaign but to resolve a personal matter.
“They weren’t taken out of campaign finance. That’s a big thing,” Trump said in the Fox interview. “They didn’t come out of the campaign; they came from me.”
Trump critics have argued the case being made by the president that the payments to Daniels and McDougal were personal do not hold up given the timing – only weeks before the election.
Cohen attorney Lanny Davis said his client had information that would be of interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether the 2016 Trump campaign conspired with Russia to influence the election.
Asked at the briefing if Trump was concerned about what Cohen might tell Mueller, Sanders replied: “I don’t think the president is concerned at all. He knows that he did nothing wrong and that there was no collusion.”
Cohen’s plea came as Manafort was found guilty on eight charges in a separate financial fraud trial in Alexandria, Virginia, stemming from a federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.
The Cohen and Manafort cases ratchet up political pressure on Trump and fellow Republicans ahead of November elections in which Democrats are seeking to take control of Congress, Reuters noted.
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