But there’s still some discrepancy about when he knew about them — Cohen says Trump was in on it from the beginning, and Trump says he knew about them later. In hindsight, The Washington Post Fact Checker said, Trump straight-up lied when he said he didn’t know about the payments that would eventually get his former lawyer and loyal fixer in so much trouble.
“Later on I knew. Later on."— Fox News (@FoxNews) August 23, 2018
On @foxandfriends, @POTUS said that "later on" he knew that former attorney Michael Cohen made hush-money payments to adult-film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, and insisted the money did not come from campaign funds. pic.twitter.com/nChRG2VhVl
Cohen has also forced the retreating president to reach down and hastily grab a new defense: that what Cohen did to help Trump win the election — paying off a porn star and forging a deal with a tabloid newspaper to quash a former Playboy model’s story and then not reporting the payoffs as campaign contributions — was not a crime.
“He made the deal. He made the deals. And by the way, he pleaded to two counts that aren’t a crime. Which nobody understands,” Trump said in an interview that aired Thursday morning on Fox and Friends. “In fact, I watched a number of shows. Sometimes you get some pretty good information by watching shows. Those two counts aren’t even a crime. They weren’t campaign finance.”
Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, among other felonious crimes, and yet the president says that what Cohen admitted to isn’t a crime. That makes absolutely no sense.
Let’s start off with the fact that Cohen has admitted that these payments were criminal. He did it in a federal court, where prosecutors and a judge and his own attorney all agreed: These payments are crimes.
Trump may not want these things to be a crime. But he cannot just change the U.S. criminal code by quixotically insisting otherwise. It’s kind of like how Trump tries to disparage reporting about him by claiming, without evidence, that it’s made up.
In the Cohen case, to argue he pleaded guilty to fake crimes is to argue that the entire U.S. justice system is wrong, and that Trump is right. That’s just not reality.
Now let’s get into why these payments are a crime. In one sentence: They are campaign contributions that were never reported. That’s illegal. The intent here is also important, legal experts say. Cohen has admitted to trying to cover up these payments, knowing that what he was doing was wrong. He got reimbursements from Trump’s business, court filings show, which executives insincerely recorded in their bookkeeping as legal retainers for Cohen.
Cohen committed a crime by making or arranging these payments. That much is not up for debate. What is still uncertain is how involved the president was. As more of the truth around these payments is revealed, it’s telling that Trump is defending himself by arguing against basic reality.