Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former "fixer" who has since flipped on him and admitted to a series of lies as part of a plea deal for a reduced sentence, is in the process of transitioning from a much-maligned figure in the press to an important voice of opposition to the media-scorned president.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News Friday, Cohen responded to a series of tweets issued by Trump Thursday refuting Cohen's claims against him regarding the "hush money" payments directed to porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playmate Karen McDougal.
"I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law," said Trump in a series of posts Thursday. "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 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 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!"
In response, Cohen told ABC's George Stephanopoulos, a former Bill Clinton aide, that Trump "of course" knew that what he told him to do to keep Daniels and McDougal quiet was "wrong."
"I knew what I was doing was wrong. I stood up before the world and I accepted the responsibility for my actions," Cohen said (partial transcript via ABC), referencing his tearful plea in his sentencing hearing Wednesday. Asked if Trump likewise knew it was "wrong," Cohen said, "Of course."
The former fixer also underscored that the purpose of the transactions was to "help him and his campaign," which goes to the legal crux of the issue: potential campaign finance violations. Trump "was very concerned about how this would affect the election," he said.
"[N]othing at the Trump organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me to make the payments, he directed me to become involved in these matters," said Cohen. "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."
The evidence, Cohen said, is on his side, as the special counsel's statement about the credibility of his claims suggests. "There’s a substantial amount of information that they possessed that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth," he said.
As he did in his plea Wednesday, Cohen suggested that his great error was being too "loyal" to Trump. "I gave loyalty to someone who, truthfully, does not deserve loyalty," said Cohen, who was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for a variety of crimes, including multiple fraud charges and campaign finance violations.
As for Trump's assertion that Cohen is playing a role in an attempt to "embarrass the president" and was willing to lie again to try to reduce his sentencing, Cohen insisted, "It is absolutely not true. Under no circumstances do I want to embarrass the president. He knows the truth. I know the truth."
In addition to Cohen's plea claims, prosecutors have revealed that they have reached a non-prosecution agreement with American Media Inc, parent company of the National Inquirer, that has reportedly provided evidence indicating that the tabloid paid McDougal $150,000 for the rights to stories in order to squash them to protect then-candidate Trump.