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Cohen says Trump knew hush-money payments were wrong, contradicting his former boss

President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen spoke out against Trump on "Good Morning America" on Dec. 14, two days after he was sentenced to prison. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, said in a television interview Friday that Trump knew it was wrong to make hush-money payments to women who alleged they had affairs with him, directly contradicting claims from the president.

Cohen, who has admitted facilitating payments to two women in violation of campaign finance laws, told ABC News that he knew what he was doing was wrong.

Asked whether the president also knew it was wrong to make the payments, Cohen replied, “Of course.” He added that the purpose was to “help [Trump] and his campaign.”

“He was very concerned about how this would affect the election,” Cohen said.

His comments, in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” are at odds with those of Trump on Thursday in tweets and in a television interview.

Trump denies directing Michael Cohen to break the law to buy the silence of Playboy playmate and porn star

Trump denied that he directed Cohen to break the law during the 2016 campaign by buying the silence of former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal and adult-film star Stormy Daniels. He also said that Cohen, as his lawyer, bore responsibility for any campaign finance violations.

“I never directed him to do anything wrong,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday. “Whatever he did, he did on his own . . . I never directed him to do anything incorrect or wrong.”

President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen says Trump directed him to make illegal payments, after months of Trump and his advisers claiming ignorance. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

In his interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Cohen, who once vowed that he would “take a bullet” for Trump, flatly disputed the president’s assertion. He said Trump was well aware of important decisions involving his business.

“I don’t think there is anybody that believes that,” Cohen said. “First of all, nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me to make the payments. He directed me to become involved in these matters.”

The former lawyer and Trump fixer added: “He knows the truth. I know the truth. Others know the truth. 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.”

Cohen’s comments were his first since being sentenced to three years in prison Wednesday for what U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III called a “veritable smorgasbord of criminal conduct” — crimes that include tax violations, lying to a bank and lying to Congress, as well as those related to the hush-money payments.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Friday that by reporting Cohen’s claims, the media “is giving credence to a convicted criminal.”

“He’s a self-admitted liar,” Gidley told reporters. “You guys all know that, and for him to say . . . ‘I’m going to stop lying, starting now,’ is somewhat silly.”

Federal prosecutors contend Trump directed the payments in a bid to help his election prospects. Trump has denied the affairs, and initially denied knowing anything about the payments, but has since shifted his story.

Cohen is scheduled to report to prison March 6.

In the ABC interview, Cohen said a $150,000 payment to McDougal was negotiated directly between Trump and David Pecker, the chief executive of the National Enquirer’s parent company. Cohen said his role was limited to reviewing papers.

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors announced a cooperation deal with the company, American Media Inc. (AMI), in which it acknowledged paying McDougal to “suppress the woman’s story” and “prevent it from influencing the election.”

Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Trump lawyer, has acknowledged that Trump reimbursed Cohen for a $130,000 payment to Daniels. He said Trump wanted to quash false rumors that could hurt his family.

In the interview, Cohen declined to answer specific questions about the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign. “I don’t want to jeopardize any of their investigations,” he said.

Asked whether he thinks Trump is telling the truth about the Russia investigation, Cohen replied, “No.”

Trump has denied any “collusion” with Russia and has repeatedly attacked Mueller and his lawyers, accusing them of conducting a “witch hunt.”

Cohen acknowledged that he “didn’t display good judgment” in lying on Trump’s behalf and that his family was disappointed in him.

“I am done with the lying,” Cohen said. “I am done with being loyal to President Trump.”

Asked why people should believe him now, Cohen cited a statement by Mueller’s office that he has been helpful to its investigations.

“There’s a substantial amount of information that they possess that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth,” he said.

Cohen said he remains available to answer additional questions from Mueller’s team.

“If they want me, I’m here,” he said.