Trump: ‘I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law’

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Media captionCohen walked free from court – but will have to report to jail in March

US President Donald Trump has said he never directed his former private lawyer to break the law, a day after he was sentenced to prison.

“He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law.” Mr Trump tweeted of Michael Cohen, adding that he pleaded guilty “to embarrass the president”.

His comments came a day after Cohen received a three-year jail sentence for campaign finance and fraud crimes.

Cohen had blamed Mr Trump’s influence and “dirty deeds” at his sentencing.

In a series of tweets on Thursday, Mr Trump also insisted that he “did nothing wrong” in regards to campaign finance laws.

He said Cohen “probably was not guilty” of those campaign violations but pleaded guilty to benefit himself.

“As a lawyer, Michael has great liability to me!”

Cohen, 52, was sentenced on Wednesday and must report to prison by 6 March.

He had admitted to lying to Congress, campaign finance violations and tax evasion. In addition to the jail term, he was also ordered to forfeit nearly $2m (£1.6m).

He is the first of Mr Trump’s inner circle to be jailed over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The attorney, who once said he would take a bullet for the president, told Judge William Pauley that Mr Trump had caused him to “follow a path of darkness rather than light”.

Cohen said it was his “blind loyalty” to the president that led him to ignore his own “moral compass” and “cover up [Mr Trump’s] dirty deeds”.

Mr Trump, who calls Mr Mueller’s inquiry a “witch hunt”, has repeatedly criticised his former ally since he began co-operating with investigators.

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Media captionDonald Trump dismissed Michael Cohen as a “weak person” and a liar

He told reporters last month that Cohen was “weak” and “not a very smart person”.

In an interview with Fox News on Thursday, Mr Trump said that “in retrospect I made a mistake” by hiring Cohen.

What are Cohen’s crimes?

The sentencing was related to two separate cases brought by the Southern District of New York and Special Counsel Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Mr Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations for his role in making hush money payments to women who alleged affairs with Mr Trump.

One of those payments was made by American Media Inc (AMI), the parent company of the National Enquirer, to suppress a woman’s allegations of an affair with Mr Trump.

The Department of Justice announced on Wednesday it had reached a deal with AMI to forego prosecution as long as the company admitted it made the $150,000 payment “in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicise damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 election”.

The tabloid publisher has agreed to continue co-operating with investigators.

The president has acknowledged the payments despite denying the affairs, and called them a private transaction unrelated to his campaign.

Cohen’s other convictions for tax evasion and bank fraud charges are unrelated to the president.

The special counsel had charged Cohen on one count of lying to Congress after a plea deal given his co-operation with the Russia inquiry.

The ex-Trump ally admitted to making false statements to Congress about a Trump property deal in Moscow during the 2016 election.

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Michael Cohen arrived for his sentencing with members of his family

Who else has been implicated?

In other Russia investigation developments, former US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who admitted to lying to the FBI about his talks with the Russian ambassador, has asked for leniency.

Flynn’s attorneys requested he serve no prison time as he has co-operated with the special counsel’s investigation from the start.

Last week, the special counsel’s team announced that they would not be pursuing jail time for Flynn as he provided “substantial” details regarding the Trump campaign team and Russian officials.

On Thursday, Mr Trump also tweeted about Flynn’s case, saying: “They gave General Flynn a great deal because they were embarrassed by the way he was treated”.

Cohen, Flynn and ex-Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort are among a number of the president’s aides being investigated by Mr Mueller’s team.

Mr Manafort – who has been convicted of fraud – had been co-operating with the special counsel’s inquiry.

But last Friday, Mr Mueller’s team released a memo alleging he had breached a plea agreement by lying to investigators.

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