President Donald Trump and one of his new attorneys admit he reimbursed his longtime fixer for a payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, a striking reversal from what the president said just a few weeks ago. But team Trump’s attempts to clear up the matter is full of contradictions.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, now one of the lead attorneys on Trump’s personal legal team, told Fox News on Wednesday night the president repaid fixer and attorney Michael Cohen for $130,000 he transmitted to Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford) in return for her silence about an alleged sexual encounter when Trump was a reality show star.
Giuliani contends the payment and alleged reimbursement “is going to turn out to be perfectly legal. … That money was not campaign money. ... No campaign finance violation.” (Some experts who have tweeted and gone on cable news since the interview aired, however, say Giuliani’s comments do not clear up campaign finance violation questions.)
The next morning, Trump fired off three tweets that replaced his typical fire and brimstone with a more lawyerly tone. In one, the president contended Cohen got a “monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign.” From that pool of funds, Cohen “entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA,” Trump wrote, referring to Daniels.
Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA. These agreements are.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2018
...very common among celebrities and people of wealth. In this case it is in full force and effect and will be used in Arbitration for damages against Ms. Clifford (Daniels). The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair,......— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2018
...despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair. Prior to its violation by Ms. Clifford and her attorney, this was a private agreement. Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll in this transaction.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2018
The president also described that non-disclosure pact as being used by his legal team “to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair.” Daniels went on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program to claim she had a consensual sexual encounter with Trump in the early 2000s and was later threatened and paid to remain silent. As he did Thursday morning, Trump denies the encounter, and his surrogates have denied the threats took place.
But much of what Giuliani said Wednesday night and Trump tweeted Thursday morning directly contradicts previous statements made by the president and his top aides — even as recently as seven days ago. Let’s count the contradictions:
Air Force One
Trump came back to the press cabin on the executive jet in April to take a few questions. He was asked whether he had knowledge of the $130,000 payout before it was made. “No,” he replied. A reporter followed up: “Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?”
“No,” the president responded. “I don’t know.”
On March 7, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was not aware of the president having knowledge of the payment when it was made.
Wednesday night, however, Giuliani claimed Trump “didn’t know about the specifics of it, as far as I know” at the time it was paid out. “But he did know about the general arrangement, that Michael would take care of things like this,” Giuliani said.
On Air Force One in April, Trump also was asked why Cohen paid Daniels six figures in the first place. He responded: “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney, and you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen.”
The operative word is “attorney.”
‘Attorney’ vs. ‘businessman’
The president referred to Cohen as a lawyer Thursday, another reversal that federal investigators in New York who could soon bring charges against Cohen inevitably noticed.
“Mr. Cohen, an attorney …” Trump tweeted Thursday. But rewind the tape seven days — almost to the minute.
During a rollercoaster phone interview on April 26 with “Fox & Friends,” the president tried to build ample distance between himself and his longtime attorney, whose office and hotel suite were raided by federal authorities who confiscated reams of information and electronic devices that could contain information about work Cohen did for Trump.
The president appeared to undermine his and Cohen’s legal defenses by eroding any claims that information seized by federal authorities should be protected by attorney-client privilege.
“He’s a good person. … Michael is ... really a businessman. I don’t know his business. He’s got a business. He also practices law. I have nothing to do with his business,” Trump said. “They’re looking at something to do with his business.”
The Cohen yo-yo
Last week, Trump seemed eager to put space between himself and Cohen — and to paint the New York-based lawyer as a bit player in his inner circle.
But in Thursday’s tweets, the president went into detail about the work attorney Cohen did for him, even saying he was on “retainer,” implying their arrangement was more than temporary.
That contradicts the description of their arrangement Trump employed during the “Fox & Friends” interview. Cohen’s job description now yo-yos depending on the day and the legal matter at hand.
The president claimed last week that Cohen did only a “tiny, tiny little fraction” of all the legal work conducted by the entirety of his legal team over the years. But he did confirm Cohen represented him on “this crazy Stormy Daniels deal.”
“I have many attorneys,” Trump said seven days ago. “Sadly, I have so many attorneys you wouldn’t believe it.”
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