Trump Denies Telling Cohen to Pay Off Women, Despite Tape
But Michael Cohen’s audio recordings tell a very different story.
Following what was arguably the worst day of his presidency, Donald Trump sought out the friendliest interviewer imaginable in Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt.
In an excerpt of the interview, scheduled to air in full on Thursday morning, Earhardt did ask the president about Michael Cohen’s payments to two women with whom Trump allegedly had affairs. But she then gave him ample room to muddy the facts and deny any prior knowledge of those payments as Cohen charged under oath in court the day before.
Asked if he knew about the payments, Trump said, “Later on I knew, later on,” before stressing that the money was not “taken out of campaign finance.”
“They didn’t come from the campaign, they came from me,” the president said, admitting something he spent months denying until it was no longer believable. “My first question when I heard about it was, ‘Did they come out of the campaign?’ because that could be a little dicey,” Trump added as Earhardt nodded seriously.
From there, Trump pivoted to attack President Obama for having a “massive campaign violation, but he had a different attorney general and they viewed it a lot differently.” With that line, the president appeared to be blaming his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for the prosecution of Cohen.
Weeks ago, Cohen released audio tape of him discussing one of the hush payments with Trump before he ever made it, directly contradicting the president’s current version of events. On the tape, Trump can be heard making the suggestion to “pay with cash,” as Cohen says, “No, no, no, no, no.”
Appearing on MSNBC following the release of Trump’s latest comments on the matter, Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis asked, “Did you just witness the president of the United States misstating the law? It doesn't matter whether it's a campaign contribution or whether it's a corporate contribution or whether it's a personal contribution. The campaign limits apply whether it's personal money or campaign money.”
Taking a shot at Earhardt, Davis added, “And the interviewer didn't say, ‘Wait a minute, Mr. President, it doesn't matter whether it's a campaign contribution, which you said is dicey, or whether you write a personal check, the campaign limitations under the law apply the same. You committed a felony if you knew about it afterwards and didn't take that money back.’”
The contradiction between Trump’s comments to Fox & Friends and the Cohen tape also came up during Wednesday’s White House press briefing when CNN’s Kaitlan Collins questioned Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the discrepancy.
“The president said he found out about those payments that Michael Cohen made ‘later on,’ but he is on tape discussing how to make one of the payments with Michael Cohen, before the payment was made,” Collins said. “So how do you explain that?”
Instead of answering Collins’ question directly, Sanders simply repeated her assertion that the president “did nothing wrong, there are no charges against him, there is no collusion.” When Collins pressed her for clarity, Sanders dodged again, saying, “Just because you continue to ask the same questions over and over, I’m not going to give you a different answer.”
In the same interview with Fox, President Trump told Earhardt that he does not believe the press is the “enemy of the people,” as he has charged on numerous occasions. “But the fake news is,” he added, estimating that they make up about 80 percent of the media at large. “I mean, The New York Times cannot write a good story about me,” he added, seeming to define “fake news” as anything critical of him personally. “They’re crazed, they’re like lunatics.”