President Donald Trump directed former lawyer Michael Cohen to make hush-money payments to two women during the presidential campaign despite knowing it was wrong, Cohen said in his first interview to air after being sentenced to prison for crimes that included his part in the scheme.
Cohen made the allegation in an interview with ABC that aired Friday, saying Trump was "very concerned" about how their stories of alleged affairs with him "would affect the election." He also said he was angry at himself for committing crimes but said, "I will not be the villain of [Trump's] story."
Cohen said that "nothing at the Trump organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump," adding that Trump directed him to make the payments, including one made to Playboy model Karen McDougal.
"He directed me to make the payments, he directed me to become involved in these matters including the one with McDougal, which was really between him and David Pecker, and then David Pecker's counsel," Cohen said. "I just reviewed the documents in order to protect him. I gave loyalty to someone who, truthfully, does not deserve loyalty."
Pecker is the publisher of the National Enquirer. Earlier this week, the parent company of magazines including the National Enquirer admitted to the journalistically dubious practice known as "catch-and-kill" in order to help Trump become president.
Federal prosecutors revealed Wednesday they had agreed not to prosecute American Media Inc. for secretly assisting Trump's campaign by paying $150,000 to McDougal for the rights to her story about the alleged affair, which Trump has denied. The company then intentionally suppressed McDougal's story until after the election.
Cohen's allegation that Trump knew of the payments and knew they were wrong contradicts the president's statements this week in a Fox News interview that he "never directed" Cohen, his longtime lawyer, to break the law.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Friday that reporters were "giving credence to a convicted criminal."
When asked specifically about Cohen's claims that Trump had directed Cohen to make the payments, Gidley said: "I understand that. He's a self-admitted liar. You guys all know that and for him to say, 'I'm going to start — I'm going to stop lying starting now,' is somewhat silly."
On Thursday, a source confirmed to NBC News that Trump was in the room with Cohen and Pecker when they discussed in August 2015 how Pecker could counter negative stories about Trump's relationships with women.
Cohen, in the interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, said the point of those payments was to help Trump and his campaign.
"You have to remember at what point in time this matter came about. Two weeks or so before the election, post-Billy Bush comments," Cohen said, referring to the leaked "Access Hollywood" tape where Trump was heard talking about grabbing women by their private parts. "So, yes, he was very concerned about how this would affect the election."
Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty in August to evading $1.4 million in taxes related to his personal businesses. In the part of the case with greater political repercussions, he also admitted breaking campaign finance laws in arranging payments in the waning days of the 2016 election to porn star Stormy Daniels and McDougal, both of whom said they had sexual encounters with Trump, which the president denies. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison this week.
Asked why he should believed, Cohen cited special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation finding that the information he provided has been credible.
“There’s a substantial amount of information that they possessed that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth,” he said.
Speaking of Trump, Cohen said: "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."