Donald Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong after his longtime attorney implicated him in illicit hush payments made before the 2016 election, as experts warned the legal maelstrom swirling around the Republican leader could further threaten his presidency.
On perhaps the worst day of Trump’s tumultuous time in office, his former fixer, Michael Cohen, told a federal judge on Tuesday he had made illegal campaign contributions – in the form of payments to silence women alleging affairs with Trump – at his boss’s request.
Cohen’s statements came on a day of head-spinning political drama for Trump, whose former campaign chief Paul Manafort was found guilty within the same hour of federal tax and bank fraud, in the first case sent to trial by the special prosecutor probing Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
But the mercurial US leader appeared determined to ride out the latest storm.
After first accusing Cohen of making up stories to cut a plea deal, he then tweeted that the lawyer’s actions were not a crime, and went further in an interview with Fox and Friends, saying they were not even a campaign violation.
In that interview, Trump said the hush payments had been financed with his own money – to which Cohen had access – and that while he had no knowledge of them at the time, he had since been fully transparent.
“My first question when I heard about it was, ‘Did they come out of the campaign?’ because that could be a little dicey,” he said of the payments – believed to have been made to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal.
In a string of interviews early on Wednesday, Cohen’s own lawyer, Lanny Davis, took aim squarely at the president, dubbing him a criminal.
“He committed a crime,” Davis told CBS News.
“If he were not president, he clearly would be indicted and jailed for that crime.”
While the president could theoretically be impeached, it remains a remote prospect in a Republican-dominated Congress where even Democrats are focused on letting Robert Mueller’s Russia probe play out.
The White House insisted Trump was not concerned at all that Cohen might implicate the president by co-operating with Mueller.
“He knows that he did nothing wrong and that there was no collusion,” spokesperson Sarah Sanders said.
But Davis told CBS News that Cohen had known of election tampering efforts during the 2016 campaign that would be “of interest to the special counsel”.
Trump said in an interview aired on Thursday that the US economy would collapse if he were impeached.
“If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash.
“I think everybody would be very poor, because without this thinking, you would see – you would see numbers that you wouldn’t believe in reverse,” he told Fox and Friends.
He then launched into a rambling statement on job creation and other economic progress he said had been made during his presidency and insisted Americans would be much worse off if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election.
“I don’t know how you can impeach somebody who has done a great job,” he said.