WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump knew it was wrong to order election-eve hush money paid to two women who claimed affairs with him, his former lawyer Michael Cohen said in an interview to be broadcast Friday.
Trump acted because he “was very concerned about how this would affect the election,” Cohen told ABC News of the women’s allegations in his first comments since being sentenced to three years in prison on Thursday.
Trump has said he never directed Cohen to break the law. But Cohen, asked if Trump knew the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal were wrong, said “of course.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s legal problems mounted as federal prosecutors in New York are looking into whether his inaugural committee misspent more than $100 million (Dh367 million) it raised from donors, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing people it said were familiar with the matter. The Journal said that many of the president’s biggest campaign supporters were contributors to his inaugural fund. Donating in exchange for political favours or using funds for purposes other than the inauguration could violate federal laws.
The newspaper reported that the investigation is in its early stages, and stemmed from materials obtained during an FBI raid earlier this year of his former lawyer Michael Cohen. Investigators in those raids reportedly obtained a recorded conversation between Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to first lady Melania Trump who worked on the inauguration. Wolkoff is heard expressing concern about how the committee was spending money, the Journal reported, but the news outlet could not determine when the conversation took place.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders distanced Trump from the inauguration committee Thursday. “That doesn’t have anything to do with the president or the first lady,” Sanders told reporters. “The biggest thing the president did, his engagement in the inauguration, was to come here and raise his hand and take the oath of office.
The president was focused on the transition at that time and not on any of the planning for the inauguration.”
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported on Thursday night that the inquiry was focusing on individuals from Middle Eastern nations using straw donors to hide their own gifts to the Trump funds. A lawyer close to the matter told The Wall Street Journal that the inaugural committee, which is registered as a non-profit, has not been contacted by prosecutors.
“We are not aware of any evidence the investigation the Journal is reporting actually exists,” the lawyer told the news outlet. In a statement, Trump’s inaugural committee said the celebration was “in full compliance with all applicable laws.” “The (committee) is not aware of any pending investigations and has not been contacted by any prosecutors. We simply have no evidence the investigation exists,” the statement read. Trump’s inaugural committee raised nearly $107 million, more than double what Trump’s predecessor raised for his first inaugural.
Trump’s inauguration consisted of more than 20 ceremonies in 2017, including a concert near the Lincoln Memorial and a pair of inaugural galas.
The Journal said it could not determine which funds are under scrutiny by prosecutors. Previous reports have indicated that law enforcement was interested in certain individuals with ties to Russia attending the festivities in January 2017. The Washington Post reported in January that the FBI expressed concerns about several Russians connected to the Kremlin who were in Washington, D.C., that weekend, and ABC News reported in June that special counsel Robert Mueller was looking into how several Russian oligarchs were given access to invitation-only parties. An investigation by Manhattan prosecutors into the inauguration committee would represent yet another legal dilemma for Trump, who has had five former associates implicated in the Mueller investigation.
Cohen, who worked for years at the Trump Organization, was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday after he pleaded guilty to bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance law violations he said he made when he paid two women at Trump’s direction to cover up alleged affairs with the president. Trump has denied he directed Cohen to break the law, and has insisted he did not collude with Russia.