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Trump's first comments after Cohen sentencing: 'I never directed' ex-lawyer 'to break the law'

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President Donald Trump delivers remarks before signing an Executive Order establishing the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council at the White House in Washington on Dec. 12, 2018. -
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Jonathan Ernst Reuters
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President Donald Trump unleashed a lengthy tweetstorm on Thursday that marks his first public response to the sentencing of Michael Cohen, his former attorney and fixer, on Wednesday.

"I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law," Trump said on Twitter. "He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called 'advice of counsel,' and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid."

Cohen pleaded guilty earlier this year to a series of felony counts — including two campaign-finance violations involving hush payments he facilitated to a pair of women just prior to the 2016 election to keep them silent about their allegations of affairs with Trump.

Cohen said under oath that he made those payments at Trump's direction with the purpose of boosting his candidacy. Prosecutors wrote in court documents that the hush payments were made in coordination with then-candidate Trump.

The payments were made to porn star Stormy Daniels and former playboy model Karen McDougal. McDougal's story was purchased by The National Enquirer's parent company, whose CEO was a close friend of Trump's. Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that the company admitted it purchased— and then refused to publish — McDougal's story in order to benefit Trump's candidacy, preventing what could have been damaging allegations against the then GOP-nominee from becoming public before Americans went to the polls.

"I have been living in a personal and mental incarceration ever since the day that I accepted the offer to work for a real estate mogul whose business acumen that I deeply admired," Cohen told a federal judge at his sentencing in lower Manhattan on Wednesday, saying he worked to cover up Trump's "dirty deeds."

Cohen received 3 years in prison for what a Manhattan federal court judge called a "veritable smorgasbord" of criminal conduct.

In recent days, Trump and other members of his party have argued that the payments were not made to benefit his candidacy, but to hide embarrassing allegations from his family, citing the argument used by former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina in a similar situation.

"Number one, it wasn't a campaign contribution," Trump told Reuters of the payments earlier this week. "If it were, it's only civil, and even if it's only civil, there was no violation based on what we did. OK?""