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Former lawyer says Donald Trump directed him to buy silence of two women

Michael Cohen leaves a federal court after his sentencing in New York
By Michael Balsamo, Associated Press

Donald Trump's long-time personal lawyer has said the US president directed him to buy the silence of two women during the 2016 campaign because he was concerned about how their stories of alleged affairs would affect the election.

Michael Cohen, speaking in an interview with ABC, said Mr Trump knew the payments were wrong.

The lawyer – who for more than a decade was a key player in the Trump Organisation and a fixture in Mr Trump's political life – said he "gave loyalty to someone who, truthfully, does not deserve loyalty".

Cohen said "of course" Mr Trump knew it was wrong to make the hush-money payments, but he did not provide any specific evidence or detail in the interview.

Federal law requires that any payments made "for the purposes of influencing" an election must be reported in campaign finance disclosures.

Speaking to ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Cohen appeared shaken over the series of events that swiftly took him from being Mr Trump's "fixer" to a man facing three years in prison.

"I am done with the lying," Cohen said.

"I am done being loyal to President Trump.

"I will not be the villain of this story."

Cohen was sentenced on Wednesday to three years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to several charges, including campaign finance violations and lying to Congress.

Prosecutors said Mr Trump directed him to arrange the payments to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal in the run-up to the 2016 campaign.

The decision to pay off Daniels, who alleged she had sex with a married Mr Trump in 2006, was made soon after an old Access Hollywood tape surfaced in which Mr Trump was heard talking about groping and trying to have sex with women, Cohen said.

"He was very concerned about how this would affect the election," Cohen said.

The hush money was not initially reported on campaign finance documents and, in any case, far exceeded the legally acceptable amount for in-kind contributions.

As to whether Mr Trump knew it was wrong to make the payments, Cohen said: "First of all, nothing at the Trump Organisation 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."

The president has denied directing Cohen to break the law and has claimed in a barrage of tweets over the last few weeks that Cohen is a "liar" who cut a deal to get a reduced prison sentence.

Loyalty has long been a core value for Mr Trump, who has been stung by the behaviour of Cohen and other former associates who have dissociated themselves from the president, intent on saving themselves.

The list also includes former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman and ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn.

"He knows the truth. I know the truth. Others know the truth," Cohen said.

"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.

"Instead of him taking responsibility for his actions, what does he do? He attacks my family."

Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 as part of a non-disclosure agreement signed days before the 2016 election and she is currently suing to dissolve that contract.

In August 2016 the parent company of the tabloid National Enquirer reached a $150,000 deal to pay Ms McDougal for her story of a 2006 affair, which it never published, a tabloid practice known as catch and kill.

Cohen insisted he just reviewed the McDougal deal and said the payment was negotiated directly between Mr Trump and David Pecker, the chief executive of the tabloid's parent company.

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