Two days after his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and personal attorney Michael Cohen were convicted of federal crimes, President Donald Trump sat down with a friendly face, Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt. The Fox & Friends host did her part: Her first three questions were variations on “How are you and your family holding up?” But when the interview turned substantive, Trump struggled to convincingly distance himself from his associates’ criminal wrongdoing, and even may have accidentally admitted to committing crimes himself.
“Later on I knew, later on, but you have to understand, Ainsley, what [Cohen] did, and they weren’t taken out of campaign finance—that’s a much bigger thing, did they come out of the campaign? They didn’t come out of the campaign,” Trump said about payments to Stormy Daniels.
Trump seems to think that the fact that the money used to silence Daniels didn’t come directly from his presidential campaign exonerates him. It does not. Cohen has said that the payment to Trump’s former mistress were made using personal funds for the purpose of evading federal election law, which requires candidates to report expenses to the Federal Election Commission. These payments were made, Cohen has attested in court, because Trump believed silencing Daniels was important in order to win the 2016 presidential election. Just because campaign funds weren’t used doesn’t mean that this wasn’t a campaign expenditure, in other words. Using personal money is still a crime, and Trump appears to have just admitted to committing a crime. (He’s also lying when he says he knew about the payments “later on”—he was involved, as Cohen’s testimony proves, from the beginning.)
Elsewhere in the interview, Trump said that the stock market would crash if he were impeached, adding, “Everybody would be very poor.” He also said that “flipping”—in which someone accused of a crime is given a lesser sentence in exchange for testimony that implicates others—“almost ought to be illegal.” Trump is obsessed with “flipping” for a reason: Cohen has given considerable evidence against Trump to federal prosecutors, and has suggested, through his attorney, that he would be willing to speak to special counsel Robert Mueller. But seeking to ban the long-standing prosecutorial maneuver hardly suggests Trump’s innocence.