WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday disputed claims by former lawyer Michael Cohen that he engaged in "dirty deeds" that include hush payments to two women to keep them quiet during the 2016 election.
"I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law," Trump tweeted. "He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law."
Trump spoke a day after a federal judge sentenced Cohen to three years in prison for pleading guilty to campaign finance violations, tax evasion and lying to Congress, including a hush money scheme that prosecutors have said was authorized by Trump himself.
Cohen, who is cooperating with prosecutors in the investigation into Russian meddling in the election, said before sentencing that he took "full responsibility" for "for each act that I pled guilty to: The personal ones to me and those involving the President of the United States of America."
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......— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018
....stated that I did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws, if they even apply, because this was not campaign finance. 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...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018
....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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018
Noting that Trump once described him as "weak," Cohen said the assessment was correct, "but for a much different reason than he was implying: It was because time and time again i felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds."
In pre-sentencing filings, prosecutors said that Cohen – with Trump's knowledge and approval – arranged for payments to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, all in an effort to keep them quiet ahead of the 2016 election.
The payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film star Stormy Daniels were not reported at the time, and amounted to improper campaign contributions, prosecutors said.
Both Trump and one of his attorneys, Rudy Giuliani, described the payments as private matters that had nothing to do with campaign finance laws.
Trump blamed it all on Cohen, and tweeted that "a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid."
Giuliani invoked the case of John Edwards, the former senator who was acquitted or had a hung jury on campaign finance charges stemming from payments to a mistress.
"It's not a violation," Giuliani said. "They tried it in the Edwards case and they lost."
Prosecutors, however, said they have a cooperation with the parent company of the National Enquirer, which was involved in hush money payments.
The company said it paid the money in one case "in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election," according to a prosecution document.
The investigation is being conducted by prosecutors in a U.S. attorney's office in New York. It is separate from special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Cohen has also cooperated with Mueller's office.
Trump has frequently changed his story about the payments. After initially denying knowledge of them in April – he told reporters they would "have to ask Michael Cohen" – the president and his lawyers later said the personal lawyer made the payments on his own from his monthly retainer.
In July, CNN broadcast a tape of Trump and Cohen discussing one of the payments.
In his latest claim, Trump echoed his lawyers' claims that, in the worst case, the payments would be a civil violation of the campaign finance laws, not a criminal one. Trump cited lawyers claiming "that I did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws, if they even apply, because this was not campaign finance."
But last week, federal prosecutors in New York implicated Trump directly in campaign finance violations, asserting that Cohen made hush money payments at Trump’s direction. And Cohen pleaded guilty to felony charges involving he payoffs.
Trump accused his former lawyer of pleading out "in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence."
"As a lawyer, Michael has great liability to me!" he added.
Brad Moss, a national security lawyer, said the case amounts to a felony because of evidence of an organized effort to help Trump's campaign. He called it a "multi-pronged conspiracy to exceed contribution limits in furtherance of efforts to silence two different women for the purpose of influencing the election."
Legal analysts continued to say that Trump may be hurting himself by speaking out so publicly.
Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department during the Barack Obama administration, tweeted: "Has anyone thought to tell @realDonaldTrump that he has the right to remain silent?"
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: President Trump denies Michael Cohen's claims of 'dirty deeds'