As federal investigators appear to be moving closer and closer to his doorstep, President Donald Trump broke his silence on several new legal developments but he returned Thursday to his familiar contention that Mexico will pay for his southern border wall.
First on Wednesday, Trump’s former personal attorney and “fixer,” Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison for campaign finance violations that he said his former client ordered. Later in the day, prosecutors signaled that the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., had flipped, meaning the company and its executives are cooperating with federal officials.
AMI officials have struck a deal under which it will not be prosecuted while it will give federal investigators information about its dealings with Trump, his inner circle and his campaign organization. The firm admitted the payments to two women — adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal — were made by Cohen to AMI to squash their allegations of sexual extramarital affairs with Trump.
But, in a twist that could implicate Trump, Cohen says his former client ordered the payments as he feared it would hinder or end his 2016 presidential bid. AMI said it worked with his campaign organization to arrange the transactions.
The president did not publicly weigh in on Cohen’s sentencing on Wednesday. And he has yet to comment on the media company’s cooperation deal.
In a Thursday morning tweet, the president claimed he “never directed Michael Cohen to break the law,” adding his former lawyer “is supposed to know the law.” He also wrote that “a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid.”
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. That is why they get paid. Despite that many campaign finance lawyers have strongly......— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018
Trump also contended that several attorneys who deal with campaign finance law say “I did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws, if they even apply, because this was not campaign finance. Cohen was guilty on many charges unrelated to me.”
On the latter, the president has a point. Six of the nine charges on which Cohen was sentenced were not related to work he did for Trump — but three were directly related.
....stated that I did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws, if they even apply, because this was not campaign finance. Cohen was guilty on many charges unrelated to me, but he plead to two campaign charges which were not criminal and of which he probably was not...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018
The president repeated claims he made in an interview earlier this week with Reuters that Cohen pleaded guilty to “two campaign charges which were not criminal and of which he probably was not... guilty even on a civil basis.”
He also claimed Cohen agreed to plead to those charges “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. As a lawyer, Michael has great liability to me!”
....guilty even on a civil basis. 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. As a lawyer, Michael has great liability to me!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018
The president has changed his story about the payments to the women, initially saying he had no knowledge of them to now saying they are a civil matter.
Legal analysts, however say Trump is facing legal jeopardy. And Cohen’s lawyer reportedly said Wednesday that his client eventually will be viewed like John Dean, the former Richard Nixon aide who revealed damning details about his boss, who resigned the presidency.
As he often does when he is under a legal hot lamp, he started the morning with a topic that seems to fire up his conservative base the most: immigration.
“MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL!” he roared during his “executive time” in the White House residence.
“I often stated, ‘One way or the other, Mexico is going to pay for the Wall,’” Trump wrote, referring to his 2016 campaign trail rhetoric. “This has never changed.”
I often stated, “One way or the other, Mexico is going to pay for the Wall.” This has never changed. Our new deal with Mexico (and Canada), the USMCA, is so much better than the old, very costly & anti-USA NAFTA deal, that just by the money we save, MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018
Mexican leaders from two administrations in Mexico City have been consistent and unified in saying their government will not give Washington one penny for any border barrier. But Trump contends the revised North American Free Trade Agreement his administration negotiated with Mexico and Canada contains terms so favorable to the United States that Mexico, should Congress approve it, would pay for the barrier “just by the money we save.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer emerged from a contentious Oval Office meeting with Trump on Tuesday afternoon and expressed dismay that the president told them he still believes Mexico will pay.
Pelosi told colleagues once back at the Capitol that Trump told the Democratic leaders America’s southern neighbor will pay for the wall “one way or another.”
When they pushed back, Trump went to the same contention that Mexico would pay via the trade deal, known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.
The expected next speaker says she told Trump she would “go out and tell people that you think that Mexico is paying for it with money that should be going into our economy.”
But now she doesn’t have to. Trump is doing it himself.
Watch: Border Wall Meeting Gets Hectic Between Trump, Schumer, Pelosi