President Donald Trump said Thursday that the criminal conviction of his former fixer, Michael Cohen, is a plot to "embarrass" him.
"They put that on to embarrass me," Trump said, referring to campaign finance violations related to hush-money payments made to women during the campaign that were among the charges for which Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison.
"They're not criminal charges," the president insisted in the Fox interview, even though a federal judge accepted Cohen's guilty plea and sentenced him on those charges and others. "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."
There's no evidence the charges were an attempt to embarrass the president. They gained additional support Wednesday when the National Enquirer's parent company, AMI, admitted it made a $150,000 payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to "catch and kill" her story about an alleged affair that Trump denies.
As part of an agreement shielding it from prosecution, AMI acknowledged its actions on behalf of Trump were designed to help him with the 2016 election by preventing potentially damaging allegations from becoming public.
Earlier, in his first public response to Cohen's sentencing on Wednesday, Trump unleashed a lengthy tweetstorm.
"I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law," Trump said on Twitter. "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."
Trump also referred to "campaign finance laws" that he suggested didn't actually apply to the Cohen case.
It's an argument the president and other members of his party have made in recent days, claiming that the hush payments Cohen helped facilitate just before the 2016 election to two women to ensure silence regarding their alleged affairs with the then-GOP nominee were not instances of major wrongdoing. Some even chalked the situation up to simple filing mistakes.
"No. 1, it wasn’t a campaign contribution," Trump told Reuters earlier this week. "If it were, it's only civil, and even if it's only civil, there was no violation based on what we did. OK?"
Trump has argued that the payments were not made to benefit his candidacy, but rather to hide embarrassing allegations from his family, citing the argument used by former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina in a similar situation.
But Cohen, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to a series of felony counts, including two campaign-finance violations stemming from those hush payments, said under oath that he facilitated those expenditures at Trump's direction with the purpose of boosting his candidacy. Prosecutors wrote in court documents that the hush payments were made in coordination with then-candidate Trump.
The payments were made to porn star Stormy Daniels and former playboy model Karen McDougal. McDougal's story was purchased by the National Enquirer's parent company, whose CEO was a close friend of Trump's. Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that the company admitted it purchased — and then refused to publish — McDougal's story in order to benefit Trump's candidacy, preventing what could have been damaging allegations against him from becoming public before Americans went to the polls.
“I have been living in a personal and mental incarceration ever since the day that I accepted the offer to work for a real estate mogul whose business acumen that I deeply admired," Cohen told a federal judge at his sentencing in lower Manhattan on Wednesday, saying he worked to cover up Trump's "dirty deeds."
Cohen received three years in prison for what a Manhattan federal court judge called a "veritable smorgasbord" of criminal conduct.