Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits federal court in New York. (Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg)

Trump Ordered Payments to Women Knowing It Was Wrong, Cohen Says

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to make hush payments to women alleging affairs with him out of concern about “how this would affect the election,” the attorney said in an interview with ABC News.

The interview marked Cohen’s first since being sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to breaking campaign-finance laws by arranging the payments, as well as lying to Congress and banks.

“Of course,” Cohen said when asked if Trump knew it was wrong to make the payments, adding that the purpose was to help Trump and his campaign.

Trump said Thursday he never directed Cohen to break the law and said that, as a lawyer, Cohen should know what’s legal and what’s not. The president later said hiring Cohen was a mistake and that he mainly handled public relations rather than legal work.

“I knew what I was doing was wrong,” Cohen told ABC News’ Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos. “I stood up before the world and I accepted the responsibility for my actions.”

The matter centers around a $130,000 arrangement with adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, to keep silent about an affair with Trump years prior to his candidacy. Cohen also said during the interview he reviewed documents in a deal that saw American Media Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer, pay former Playboy model Karen McDougal in a $150,000 scheme to keep her story of an alleged affair out of the publication.

Cohen said he feels like he’s regained his freedom and won’t be “the villain of his story,” referring to Trump. He said his plea wasn’t intended to embarrass Trump and that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has a “substantial amount” of information corroborating his account.

Cohen told ABC he wants to be remembered for “helping to bring this country back together” through his plea and cooperation with law enforcement.

Cohen said the president is not telling the truth about Russia, that Trump has changed from the man Cohen once worked for, that the presidency is a more difficult job than what Trump expected and that Trump does not understand the way the American political and governance system works.

Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis said Wednesday that Cohen is willing to reveal publicly what he knows about Trump once Special Counsel Mueller’s probe is finished.

The special counsel’s team interviewed Cohen for about 70 hours, but little is known about what he shared. Cohen has admitted to lying to Congress and Mueller’s investigators about the timing of a proposed Trump tower in Moscow and Trump’s involvement in the project. Davis said that false testimony was shared with the White House before Cohen submitted it to Congress and it is possible Trump was aware at the time that Cohen would make false statements.

“I’m done with the lying. I’m done with President Trump,” Cohen said Friday, adding his loyalty lies with his family.

Reacting to Trump’s Twitter barrage accusing Cohen of lying to protect his family, the lawyer said “instead of him taking responsibility for his actions, what does he do? He attacks my family.”

“I will spend the rest of my life in order for fix the mistake that I made,” Cohen said. Asked how, he said he doesn’t yet know and will approach it “one day at a time.”

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