WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump directed the payment of hush money to two women during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and knew that doing so was wrong, his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said in a television interview that aired on Friday.
“He directed me to make the payments. He directed me to become involved in these matters,” Cohen told ABC News.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison this week on multiple charges, some related to the payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both claim they had sexual affairs years ago with Trump.
Asked if then-candidate Trump knew the payments were wrong, Cohen told ABC’s “Good Morning America” program: “Of course.”
Trump has denied the alleged affairs with the women. His explanations of the payments have shifted over time. After earlier saying he knew nothing of the payments, Trump on Thursday said he never told Cohen to break the law.
The Cohen case has intensified the legal pressures on former reality television star Trump, whose nearly two-year presidency has been clouded by multiple investigations and lawsuits, including a U.S. special counsel probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s campaign and possible obstruction of justice.
Trump has said there was no collusion with the Kremlin, which denies U.S. intelligence agencies’ findings that it interfered in the election that saw Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Federal prosecutors are also investigating whether Trump’s inaugural committee misspent some of the $107 million it raised from donors, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported on Thursday.
On another front, a New York state judge last month rejected Trump’s request to dismiss a lawsuit in which New York’s attorney general accused him of misusing his namesake foundation to advance his 2016 campaign and his businesses.
As Trump’s problems have grown, some members of Congress and legal experts have raised questions about whether a sitting president can be indicted. More investigations are expected after Democrats take over the U.S. House of Representatives next month, and some top members of the party have said Trump could face impeachment and prison.
Cohen, in his first televised interview since he was sentenced, said Trump “was very concerned” about the potential impact on the election if voters knew about the alleged affairs. Cohen said Trump told him to pay the two women to keep quiet.
The payments were intended to “help (Trump) and his campaign,” Cohen said. Federal law requires contributions of “anything of value” to a campaign be disclosed, and an individual donation cannot exceed $2,700.
Earlier this year, Trump acknowledged repaying Cohen for $130,000 paid to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
In a deal with prosecutors, the publisher of the National Enquirer newspaper said on Wednesday it paid $150,000 in hush money to McDougal, the former Playboy model. American Media Inc (AMI) said that it did so “in concert” with Trump’s campaign.
“This all suggests Trump could become a target of a very serious criminal campaign finance investigation,” a bipartisan group of lawyers, including George Conway, whose wife works as a top Trump adviser, wrote in the Washington Post on Friday.
Cohen on Wednesday was sentenced to prison for the payments, as well as unrelated crimes of tax evasion and misleading banks, and for lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia.
Trump told Fox News on Thursday that he did not think a payment was made to AMI and that Cohen only did “low-level work” for him.
Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Andrea Ricci