Trump says he did not direct his fixer Cohen to break law

US president says allegations of paying off porn stars were made just to embarrass him

Michael Cohen says his loyalty to US president Donald Trump meant he felt obliged to cover up his "dirty deeds". Video: Reuters

 

A defiant President Donald Trump has said he never directed his former lawyer Michael Cohen to break the law.

In a series of Twitter posts – in which he did not dispute that he instructed Cohen to make controversial payments to two porn stars – Mr Trump blamed Cohen.

“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.”

He also said Cohen agreed to charges of violating campaign financing laws “in order to embarrass the president and get a much-reduced prison sentence, which he did”.

Mr Trump told Fox News the allegations that he had instructed his lawyer to pay Stormy Daniels and indirectly Karen McDougal had been made in order to “embarrass” him.

“They’re not criminal charges. I never directed him to do anything wrong,” he said.

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday for a number of crimes, including the payment of money to two adult film stars during the presidential election campaign, which could be a breach of campaign financing laws.

Separately, federal prosecutors have confirmed they had entered a co-operation agreement with the parent company of the US tabloid the National Enquirer. According to court filings, American Media Inc admitted it had paid Ms McDougal, a Playboy model, $150,000 before the 2016 election to “suppress the woman’s story” and “prevent it from influencing the election”.

Ms McDougal claims she had a liaison with Mr Trump while he was married to his third wife, Melania.  

The so-called “catch and kill” policy – the process by which publishers prevent a story’s publication – could be in violation of US campaign financing laws.

The co-operation agreement, which was agreed in September, signals a break between Mr Trump and American Media Inc owner David Pecker, who has long been a supporter of the president.

Meanwhile, a 30-year-old Russian woman pleaded guilty in a Washington DC court to conspiring with a senior Russian official to infiltrate the US conservative political scene ahead of the 2016 election. Maria Butina, who has protested her innocence since she was arrested in July, changed her plea, agreeing to co-operate with prosecutors in order to secure reduced prison time.

She was ostensibly enrolled as a graduate student at American University, but was in fact working as a Russian agent. In court on Thursday she admitted seeking to establish “unofficial lines of communication with Americans having influence over US politics” for the benefit of the Russian government, telling the court she “knowingly engaged in conspiracy against the US”.

Butina developed a romantic relationship with a longtime Republican political operative, Paul Erickson, who has now found himself at the centre of the case. She was also cultivated contacts within the National Rifle Association (NRA).

According to prosecutors, Butina was working at the direction of Aleksandr P Torshin, a Russian official who has been attending NRA conventions since 2011. She briefly met Donald Trump jnr at a 2016 NRA event and tried to broker a meeting between then candidate Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Butina was prosecuted by the US attorney’s office in Washington, not by the Mueller investigation, although the special counsel is investigating Russian interference in the election.