WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, incensed over a deal his longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen cut with prosecutors, says it might be better if “flipping” were illegal because people “just make up lies.”
Trump, in a television interview that aired Thursday, downplayed his relationship to Cohen, who claims the president directed a hush-money scheme to buy the silence of two women who say they had affairs with him.
The president argued Cohen only worked for him part-time and accused him of making up stories to reduce his legal exposure.
“I know all about flipping,” Trump told “Fox and Friends,” which taped the interview with him Wednesday at the White House. “For 30, 40 years I’ve been watching flippers. Everything’s wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they — they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go.”
Trump made the comments as his White House struggled to manage the fallout from Cohen’s plea deal and the conviction of Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort on financial charges.
The president suggested that Cohen’s legal trouble stemmed from his other businesses, including involvement with the New York City taxi cab industry.
The back-to-back legal blows have raised speculation that Democrats would launch impeachment proceedings if they win the House of Representatives in the fall. Trump argued the move could have dire economic consequences.
“If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash. I think everybody would be very poor,” Trump said. “I don’t know how you can impeach somebody who’s done a great job.
“Without this thinking,” said Trump as he pointed to his head, “you would see, you would see numbers that you wouldn’t believe in reverse.”
Trump did not say if he would pardon Manafort, but expressed “great respect” for him and argued that some of the charges “every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does.”
Cohen, who says he won’t seek a pardon from Trump, pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight charges, including campaign finance violations that he said he carried out in coordination with Trump.
Behind closed doors, Trump expressed worry and frustration that a man intimately familiar with his political, personal and business dealings for more than a decade had turned on him.
Yet the White House signaled no clear strategy for managing the fallout.
At a White House briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted at least seven times that Trump had done nothing wrong and was not the subject of criminal charges.
She referred substantive questions to the president’s personal counsel Rudy Giuliani, who was at a golf course in Scotland.
Outside allies of the White House said they had received little guidance on how to respond to the events in their appearances on cable news.
And it was not clear the West Wing was assembling any kind of coordinated response.
In the interview, Trump argued the hush-money payouts weren’t “even a campaign violation” because he subsequently reimbursed Cohen for the payments personally instead of with campaign funds.
Federal law restricts how much individuals can donate to a campaign, bars corporations from making direct contributions and requires the disclosure of transactions.
Cohen had said Tuesday he secretly used shell companies to make payments used to silence former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult-film actress Stormy Daniels for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election.
Trump has insisted that he only found out about the payments after they were made, despite the release of a September 2016 taped conversation in which Trump and Cohen can be heard discussing a deal to pay McDougal for her story of a 2006 affair she says she had with Trump.
The White House denied the president had lied, with Sanders calling the assertion “ridiculous.” Yet she offered no explanation for Trump’s shifting accounts.