Cohen acknowledges rigging polls with help of Liberty University staffer

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NEW YORK (AP, WHSV) — President Donald Trump's estranged former lawyer acknowledged Thursday that he paid a technology company to rig Trump's standing in two online polls before the presidential campaign.

Michael Cohen tweeted that "what I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of" Trump.

"I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn't deserve it," he added.

Cohen was responding to an article in The Wall Street Journal that said Cohen stiffed the owner of the technology company out of tens of thousands of dollars he promised for work including using computers to enter fake votes for Trump in a 2014 CNBC poll asking people to identify top business leaders and a 2015 poll of potential presidential candidates.

He also reportedly asked for a @WomenForCohen account to be created on Twitter to elevate his profile.

The company owner, John Gauger, told the newspaper that Cohen promised him $50,000 for the work but instead gave him a blue Walmart bag stuffed with between $12,000 and $13,000 in cash, plus a boxing glove Cohen claimed had been worn by a Brazilian mixed-martial arts fighter.

Cohen disputed he paid cash, telling the Journal that "all monies paid to Mr. Gauger were by check." He offered no further comment.

Federal prosecutors referred to a payment to Gauger's company— though not by name— when Cohen was charged last summer with violating campaign-finance laws by arranging hush-money payments to two women who claim they had extramarital affairs with Trump. They said in a charging document that Cohen had sought reimbursement from the Trump Organization for those payments with a handwritten note requesting $50,000 for "tech services."

The Trump Organization paid the full amount, prosecutors said.

Messages seeking comment were sent to the Trump Organization Thursday. Gauger's attorney declined to comment.

Gauger owns RedFinch Solutions LLC and is also the chief information officer at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty, has been an outspoken supporter of President Trump since the campaign, personally endorsing him before the election. He's urged evangelicals to look beyond Trump's history of multiple marriages and vulgar language – including a 2005 recording where he brags about touching women's genitals without consent. In an interview with NPR in 2017, Falwell said no leader is without flaws.

"Because the ones that you think are so perfect and sinless, it's just you don't know about it," Falwell said. "They're all just as bad. We all are, and that's the bottom line."

Falwell was one of Trump's first cabinet appointments when he was chosen for an educational role. In August of 2017, Liberty graduates returned diplomas over comments Falwell made in defense of President Trump after his response to the deadly 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville. Falwell dismissed the protest as "grandstanding."

According to The Wall Street Journal, the connection between Cohen and Liberty began shortly after Falwell invited Trump to the university in 2012 for a speech and Cohen went along. Gauger was reportedly introduced to Cohen soon after and helped him set up an Instagram account, beginning a years-long connection in which he helped Cohen with digital needs.

Cohen was recently sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to charges that were not related to his dealings with Gauger and the technology company.

While not responding to the allegations directly, Liberty University released a statement acknowledging Gauger's employment and praising his efforts outside the school. The full statement, which was not attributed to a specific individual at the school, is printed below:

Liberty University, like many other educational institutions, has permitted its employees for many years to engage in business, consulting and other side work that does not interfere with their employment obligations to the University. Also, like other organizations, Liberty recognizes the strong demand for highly skilled IT professionals creates special challenges in recruiting and retaining talented employees with those skills and experience. The opportunity for Liberty’s IT employees to develop businesses and products is particularly important to attracting and maintaining Liberty’s IT talent. John Gauger is one example among many outstanding LU employees who have made great contributions in their official roles and also enjoyed success as independent entrepreneurs, allowing them to enhance their capabilities and generate more revenue for their families while allowing the University to retain them on our team."