Trump says he’s done nothing wrong, Cohen is making up stories

President Donald Trump speaks before presenting Valerie Nessel the Medal of Honor for her husband Air Force Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman, posthumously for conspicuous gallantry, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump dug in to his denials of wrongdoing as his White House struggled to manage the fallout from allegations that he orchestrated a campaign cover-up to buy the silence of two women who say they had affairs with him.

Before dawn today, Trump tweeted: “NO COLLUSION – RIGGED WITCH HUNT!” — a reference to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. And he accused his former lawyer Michael Cohen of “making up stories” to get a “great deal” from prosecutors.

The president, in a Fox & Friends interview that aired today and was taped the day before, downplayed his involvement with Cohen, who worked for him for a decade, saying he was just a “part-time attorney” who had many other clients. He also suggested that Cohen’s legal trouble stemmed from his other businesses, including involvement with the New York City taxi cab industry, and that he decided to offer “lies” about Trump to reduce his own legal exposure.

He then delivered a stunning broadside against suspects turning state’s evidence and acting as a witness for the prosecution, a staple of the criminal justice system.

“It’s called flipping and it almost should be illegal,” Trump said. “In all fairness to him, most people are going to do that.”

Cohen 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 his 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, incorrectly, that 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.