WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, in a Thursday morning TV interview, acknowledged publicly for the first time that his personal attorney Michael Cohen represented him in a nondisclosure deal struck with porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election.
“He represents me, like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me...from what I’ve seen, he did absolutely nothing wrong,” Trump said in a telephone interview with the Fox News show “Fox and Friends,” adding, “There were no campaign funds going into this.”
Previously, the president has said that he had no knowledge of the $130,000 payment that Cohen paid Daniels in exchange for her silence on an alleged affair with Trump. When pressed by reporters to answer questions on the deal aboard Air Force One three weeks ago, Trump directed reporters to “ask Michael.”
In his Thursday morning interview, Trump defended Cohen, who is now the subject of a federal probe into his business dealings, but downplayed their professional ties, saying that Cohen, despite being a fixture at Trump Tower, only represented him on a “tiny fraction” of cases.
On Wednesday, Cohen indicated in a court filing that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify in a civil lawsuit filed by Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford.
And on Thursday, Trump described Cohen — a Long Island native handpicked by Trump to serve as his legal adviser in 2006 — as more of a businessman than an attorney representing Trump’s interests.
“He is really a businessman, a fairly big business, as I understand it. I don’t know his business, but this doesn’t have to do with me,” Trump said about the federal probe.
Sources familiar with the probe have said that federal prosecutors are investigating Cohen for possible bank and tax fraud, and possible campaign finance law violations in connection with the Daniels deal. Cohen has said he paid Daniels out of his own pocket, without notifying Trump, and has denied using campaign funds for the payment.
Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, seized on the president’s interview, saying on Twitter that Trump’s comments contradicted his earlier statements denying knowledge of the deal.
“Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen previously represented to the American people that Mr. Cohen acted on his own, and Mr. Trump knew nothing about the agreement with my client,” Avenatti wrote. “As I predicted, that has now been shown to be completely false.”
In the nearly 30-minute interview on “Fox and Friends,” Trump also railed against familiar topics, accusing Democrats of being “obstructionists” and criticizing the Justice Department’s handling of the investigation into Russian election interference.
Trump, who according to media reports has weighed terminating special counsel Robert Mueller, told “Fox and Friends” he would not interfere with the DOJ’s work for the time being, but adding, “maybe I’ll change that.”