WASHINGTON (CN) – Implicated by his erstwhile personal attorney in campaign-finance violations, President Donald Trump availed himself of Twitter Wednesday to unload on Michael Cohen for saying that he made hush payments ahead of the 2016 election to clamp down on Trump’s sex scandals.
“If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” the president tweeted.
Hours earlier, the president’s longtime fixer said in court that he made the payments “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.”
Telling the court that the two payments he made in 2016 were intended to influence the election, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal charges.
Cohen may not have named Trump in his plea, but his defense attorney Lanny Davis did, saying on Twitter Tuesday that the payments Cohen made were done at the direction of Trump.
Both payments – one for $150,000 and the other for $130,000 – match up with amounts received by former Playboy model Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
Cohen once bragged that he would “take a bullet” for Trump, and the president turned on his onetime loyalist Wednesday, saying that Cohen made up stories to strike a deal with prosecutors.
Trump juxtaposed Cohen with his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, whom a jury in Virginia found guilty Tuesday of financial crimes charged by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” the president tweeted. “‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’ Such respect for a brave man!”
Manafort’s jury could not reach a verdict on 10 additional counts related to money the lobbyist earned from a pro-Kremlin political party in Ukraine. Prosecutors must now decide whether they will retry these counts in addition to the separate trial Manafort faces this fall in Washington on charges that he failed to register as a foreign agent.
Mueller has been investigating the Kremlin’s disruption of the 2016 election and possible links between the Trump campaign and the hacking of Democrats’ emails, and whether the president obstructed justice.
Though neither Cohen nor Manafort’s legal troubles directly relate to any coordination with the Kremlin’s election interference, the double blow on Tuesday could bring additional pressure to bear on Trump’s presidency.
Trump has repeatedly insisted there was “no collusion” with the Kremlin’s election interference and once again decried Mueller’s probe as a “witch hunt” on Twitter Wednesday.
“A large number of counts, ten, could not even be decided in the Paul Manafort case,” Trump tweeted. “Witch Hunt!”
But attacks by the president and his allies on the special counsel and Cohen have ratcheted up in recent weeks. Whereas Trump once avoided directly naming Mueller, he now frequently blasts the special counsel by name, lashing out at the investigation in Twitter rants.
Meanwhile, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani has in recent weeks called into question Cohen’s trustworthiness.
But in a series of media interviews Wednesday morning, Cohen’s attorney Davis – former special White House counsel to President Bill Clinton – said it’s clear the president is in legal trouble.
“Very clearly, there is no dispute that Donald Trump committed a crime,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “No dispute because his own lawyers said to the special counsel in a letter that he directed-that’s the word they used-Michael Cohen to do these payments.”
Whether a sitting president can be indicted remains an open question, but those in Trump’s orbit point to a 2000 opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to shore up their position that Trump will avoid charges.
Mueller’s office has so far been mum on whether the special counsel will adhere to that guidance.