US President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen exits Federal Court after entering a guilty plea in Manhattan, New York City, the US, on November 29 2018. Picture: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY
US President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen exits Federal Court after entering a guilty plea in Manhattan, New York City, the US, on November 29 2018. Picture:  REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY

Washington — US President Donald Trump said he did not direct his former personal attorney Michael Cohen to break the law, saying that as a lawyer, Cohen was supposed to know what was legal and what was not.

“I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called ‘advice of counsel,’ and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made,” Trump said on Thursday on Twitter. “That is why they get paid.”

Cohen was given a three-year prison sentence on Wednesday after pleading guilty to breaking campaign-finance laws by arranging hush payments to women who alleged affairs with Trump, as well as lying to Congress and banks. Saying he accepted full responsibility for his crimes, Cohen described the burden of his role as Trump’s “fixer”: “It was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.”

In subsequent tweets on Thursday, Trump said he “did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws, even if they apply” and that the charges against Cohen “were not criminal”.

Trump further said of Cohen: “Those charges were just agreed to by him in order to embarrass the president and get a much-reduced prison sentence, which he did — including the fact that his family was temporarily let off the hook.”

Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, said on Wednesday that he was willing to reveal publicly what he knew about Trump once special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe was finished.

The special counsel’s team interviewed Cohen for about 70 hours, but little is known about what he shared. Cohen has admitted to lying to Congress and Mueller’s investigators about the timing of a proposed Trump tower in Moscow and Trump’s involvement in the project.

Davis said that false testimony was shared with the White House before Cohen submitted it to Congress and it is possible Trump was aware at the time that Cohen would make false statements.

Cohen pleaded guilty in New York in August, saying that “Individual-1” (widely identified as Trump) schemed to silence two women about affairs with the Republican candidate before the 2016 election. Cohen acknowledged that such payments amounted to illegal campaign donations — and said he arranged for them at Trump’s behest.

It was also disclosed on Wednesday in court filings related to Cohen that at least one unidentified aide to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign joined the attorney in an August 2015 meeting with the publisher of the National Enquirer to discuss suppressing negative news stories during the election.

Bloomberg