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Trump: I never directed Cohen to make illegal payoffs. Prosecutors: Yes, you did.

The president’s latest defense comes as prosecutors continue to probe hush money payments made during the 2016 election.

Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, was sentenced to three years in prison by the Manhattan federal court on December 12, 2018.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

President Donald Trump defended his role in the illegal hush money payments made by his former attorney Michael Cohen in a series of tweets on Thursday morning. Trump claimed he “did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws” and that the campaign finance crimes Cohen pleaded guilty to weren’t even actual crimes.

The Thursday morning tweets came after a federal judge sentenced Cohen to three years in prison on Wednesday for various crimes, including campaign finance violations involving payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.

Prosecutors have alleged that Cohen made the payments with the intention of influencing the election, and that he did so “in coordination with and at the direction” of “Individual 1,” which is how Trump is identified in the court documents.

Trump pushed back in his Thursday tweets, saying that he never “directed Michael Cohen to break the law,” and blamed Cohen for not knowing the law.

The president also said he did nothing wrong with respect to campaign laws, but then suggested that campaign laws didn’t matter because no crime had happened.

“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 guilty on a civil basis.” Trump went on to say that Cohen only pleaded guilty out of a desire to embarrass the president and get a lighter sentence.

So, to sum up: Trump is claiming he didn’t do anything wrong, and even if he did, what Cohen did (and pleaded guilty to) wasn’t actually a crime.

Prosecutors, however, have said that the payments, which exceeded the limit for an unreported campaign donation, were made with the purpose of influencing the presidential election. And Cohen, during his sentencing, told the judge he took “full responsibility” for each crime he pleaded guilty to, including those involving the president of the United States of America.

This is the latest attempt by Trump to explain away the hush-money payments made during the 2016 campaign. Trump initially claimed he knew nothing about the payments, specifically the $130,000 paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels.

Then, in May, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani admitted on Fox News that Trump had repaid Cohen for the payments to Daniels that the president had previously claimed he knew nothing about — which Trump later confirmed on Twitter.

The president’s story has changed multiple times throughout this saga; his tweets on Thursday are merely the latest iteration.

And despite Cohen’s sentencing, the investigation appears far from over. (This investigation is run out of the Southern District of New York and is separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.)

On Thursday, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said they’d reached a “non-prosecution agreement” with American Media Inc., the National Enquirer’s parent company that was involved in the $150,000 payoff to the other women involved in the scandal, former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

As part of the agreement, American Media Inc. (AMI) admitted its role in the payment, which was intended to influence the election: AMI entered into a “catch and kill” deal with McDougal in August 2016, where they paid her $150,000 and offered her a series of health columns in exchange for her silence about her alleged affair with Trump. The CEO of AMI, David Pecker, is a friend of Trump.

AMI is continuing to cooperate with prosecutors.

Recent reports also suggest that prosecutors are continuing to probe the involvement of the Trump Organization and Trump himself in the payments. Where that will lead is unclear, but the next step in the probe appears to involve the president himself.

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