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Trump "would consider pardon" for Manafort

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The White House is forcefully pushing back against suggestions that a plea deal struck by US President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen implicates the president in a crime.

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“As the president has said, we’ve stated many times, he did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said at a White House briefing this morning, Australian time.

“Just because Michael Cohen made a plea deal doesn’t mean that that implicates the president on anything.”

Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, leaves federal court after reaching a plea agreement in New York, on Tuesday. Photo: AP / Craig Ruttle

Cohen yesterday pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges of tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations. He told a federal court in Manhattan that Trump directed him to arrange payments ahead of the 2016 presidential election to silence two women who said they had affairs with Trump.

In the wake of the Cohen’s plea, Senate Democrats demanded that upcoming confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh be delayed.

Earlier, the president lashed out at Cohen on Twitter, saying the campaign finance violations Cohen pleaded guilty to in federal court in New York were not a crime – even though prosecutors and Cohen agreed that they were. Trump made the claim without offering any evidence.

At the same time, Trump on Twitter praised former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted on Tuesday of multiple counts of fraud, as a “brave man” for not cooperating with federal authorities.

Fox News released excerpts of an interview conducted with Trump on Wednesday in which the president said he knew of the payments made by Cohen “later on” but did not elaborate.

Fox News reporter Ainsley Earhardt also said Trump told her in the interview that “he would consider” pardoning Manafort.

“I think he feels bad for Manafort. They were friends,” Earhardt said in an appearance on Fox News’ “Hannity” program.

Fox News has been airing excerpts of the interview with Trump, which is yet to be broadcast, but he excerpts have not included a clip of Trump saying he would consider pardoning Manafort.

After first denying that he knew anything about Cohen’s actions, Trump earlier this year acknowledged he reimbursed Cohen for payments he made in late 2016 to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Daniels has alleged she had a relationship with Trump.

In July, CNN released an audio recording reportedly made by Cohen that features the lawyer and Trump in September 2016 discussing whether to buy the rights to the story of Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who also has alleged an affair with Trump.

The president has insisted he paid Cohen out of personal funds and that the payments were not intended to benefit his campaign but to resolve a personal matter.

“They weren’t taken out of campaign finance. That’s a big thing,” Trump said in the Fox interview. “They didn’t come out of the campaign; they came from me.”

Trump critics have argued the case being made by the president that the payments to Daniels and McDougal were personal do not hold up given the timing – only weeks before the election.

“If this was a personal matter, why wasn’t she paid off after the affair or in the intervening decade?” said Paul S. Ryan, the head of litigation at Common Cause.

“The election was what made her story valuable.”

Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis said his client had information that would be of interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether the 2016 Trump campaign conspired with Russia to influence the election. Davis has set up a website to collect donations for Cohen’s legal expenses.

Asked at the briefing if Trump was concerned about what Cohen might tell Mueller, Sanders replied: “I don’t think the president is concerned at all. He knows that he did nothing wrong and that there was no collusion.”

New York investigators have issued a subpoena to Cohen in connection with the state’s criminal investigation of the Trump Foundation, a state official said.

-Reuters

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