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“He directed me to make the payments”: Cohen says Trump instructed illegal hush money payments

Michael Cohen sat down for an interview on ABC after being sentenced to three years in prison.

Michael Cohen exits a federal court after a sentencing hearing in December 2018.
Michael Cohen exits a federal court after a sentencing hearing in December 2018.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer who once said he would take a bullet for the president, would like you to know he’s sorry now that he’s been sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to multiple crimes.

Cohen spoke with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos for an interview aired on Good Morning America on Friday. He said he followed a “bad path” out of loyalty to Trump and that he would “not be the villain” of Trump’s story.

Cohen on Wednesday pleaded guilty to tax and bank fraud charges related to his taxi medallion business, lying to Congress about discussions about building a Trump Tower in Moscow, and campaign finance violations by way of hush money payments to two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump. He has cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and has engaged in what prosecutors in the Southern District of New York described as “selective cooperation” in an effort to reduce his sentence.

Cohen has been on an ongoing apology tour of sorts since coming under legal scrutiny after the FBI raided his home, office, and hotel room in April, and Friday’s interview was a continuation of that. He denied Trump’s claims that Cohen has set out to embarrass the president of the United States.

“It is absolutely not true,” Cohen said.

He emphasized that much of what he did was at the direction of the president, saying that “nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump.”

Cohen arranged a $130,000 payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels to keep her from speaking out about her alleged affair with Trump prior to the election, and helped arrange a settlement with National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc. in August 2016 to keep Playboy model Karen McDougal from speaking out about her alleged affair with the president.

“He directed me to make the payments. He directed me to become involved in these matters,” Cohen said.

Of Trump’s denials, he said, “I don’t think there’s anybody who believes that.” He also said that Trump “of course” knew the payments were wrong and that he was “very concerned” about how news of the affairs would affect the 2016 election.

“He knows the truth. I know the truth. Others know the truth,” Cohen told Stephanopoulos. “And here is the truth: People of the United States of America, people of the world, don’t believe what he is saying. The man doesn’t tell the truth. And it is sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.”

He lamented giving “loyalty to someone who truthfully does not deserve loyalty.”

Don’t feel too sorry for Michael Cohen

Cohen was for years a fierce attack dog for Trump. He once said he would “take a bullet” for the president and was one of his most loyal defenders.

He’s since changed his tune, dropping the loyalty act and instead casting himself as a tragic figure who is deeply sorry for his misdeeds.

Instead of talking about his fealty to Trump, he now talks about his family and the country. He launched a GoFundMe crowdfunding page to help pay his legal bills. Prior to the midterm elections, Cohen, the former Republican National Committee deputy finance chair, encouraged people to go out and vote (against Trump).

While it appears as though Cohen has given helpful evidence to prosecutors in the Mueller investigation and at the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), it’s not as though he’s doing so just out of the goodness of his heart. He got caught for multiple crimes, and if he hadn’t, who knows what would have happened.

Cohen on GMA said he’s “done with lying” and “being loyal to President Trump,” saying that his loyalty instead “belongs to my wife, my daughter, my son, and this country.”

Stephanopoulos asked why anyone should believe him — which, given Cohen’s track record, seems fair.

“Because the special counsel stated emphatically that the information that I gave to them is credible and helpful,” Cohen replied. “There’s a substantial amount of information that they possessed that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth.”

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