While some White House officials had insisted that Mr. Trump was pleased with Mr. Giuliani’s performance on Fox News in an interview with Sean Hannity on Wednesday night, two people close to the president painted a different picture. They said that Mr. Trump was displeased with how Mr. Giuliani, a former New York mayor, conducted himself, and that he was also unhappy with Mr. Hannity, a commentator whose advice the president often seeks, in terms of the language he used to describe the payments to Ms. Clifford.
I know exactly which language he means. So do you if you watched the interview. Trump must have fallen out of his chair when he watched this.
Here's the moment Rudy Giuliani told Sean Hannity that "they funneled the [$130,000] through a law firm, and the president repaid it.” pic.twitter.com/XWGKE77Ysq
— Caroline O. (@RVAwonk) May 3, 2018
Of all the ways to describe Trump reimbursing Michael Cohen for the Stormy Daniels payment, “funneled through a law firm” is as close as you can get to calling it money laundering for purposes of avoiding FEC scrutiny. And the weirdest part is that it was Hannity who framed it that way. Bad enough that Rudy would repeat the phrase, but if there’s anyone in media whom Trump would think he can count on not to put the payment in the worst possible light, it’s his buddy Sean. This isn’t just a friendly journalist, remember. This is one of Michael Cohen’s other clients, a man who “basically has a desk” in the West Wing:
Trump and Hannity usually speak several times a week, according to people familiar with their relationship. The Fox News host, whose show averages more than 3 million viewers daily, is one of the few people who gets patched immediately to Trump. The two men review news stories and aspects of Hannity’s show, and occasionally debate specifics about whatever the president is considering typing out on Twitter. There have also been times when Trump has assessed the merits of various White House aides with Hannity…
Advisers, at times, refer to Hannity as the “shadow” chief of staff, rivaling White House chief of staff John F. Kelly in terms of influence. Whenever Trump is irritated by his staff, he turns to outside allies, and Hannity is usually atop the call list.
Trump and Hannity are coordinating regularly, allegedly to the point that Hannity’s opinion carries about as much weight as John Kelly’s. (Certainly more nowadays.) Yet to all appearances there was no advance warning to him from Trump or Rudy that a big admission about reimbursing Cohen was about to be made. Hannity seemed caught so completely off-guard by it that the “funneling” comment came out spontaneously, as if he was thinking out loud in trying to get a handle on the arrangement Giuliani had just described to him. I don’t mean to imply that he did something wrong in not coordinating with Rudy about it beforehand; it’s basic good journalism not to rehearse Q&A’s with the person you’re interviewing. But Trump doesn’t expect “journalism” on Hannity’s show, certainly not when he’s quizzing one of the president’s lawyers about a fraught legal matter. He expects PR. This was terrible PR. It’s bad enough, he must think, that his actual chief of staff is undermining him. Now the shadow chief of staff is too?
Trump being mad at Rudy and Hannity isn’t the main angle of the NYT story linked above, though. This is:
President Trump knew about a six-figure payment that Michael D. Cohen, his personal lawyer, made to a pornographic film actress several months before he denied any knowledge of it to reporters aboard Air Force One in April, according to two people familiar with the arrangement…
It was not immediately clear when Mr. Trump learned of the payment, which Mr. Cohen made in October 2016, at a time when news media outlets were poised to pay her for her story about an alleged affair with Mr. Trump in 2006. But three people close to the matter said that Mr. Trump knew that Mr. Cohen had succeeded in keeping the allegations from becoming public at the time the president denied it.
Catching Trump in a lie that he told the public is nice and all but no one blinks at this point. The important question is when he first found out about the payment to Daniels. There’s a meaningful difference between him knowing from the beginning, in October 2016, and only finding out after he’d already reimbursed Cohen via Cohen’s monthly, ahem, “retainer.” If POTUS didn’t find out until after, he could argue to the FEC that he never intended to mislead them about the payment. How could he? He didn’t know a payment had been made until long after the fact! Blame that shady Michael Cohen instead for paying off Daniels and not telling him, a practice both illegal (because it amounted to an illegal loan to Trump’s campaign) and unethical (because he didn’t keep his client informed of business he was conducting on his behalf). If Trump knew about the payment from the beginning, though, hoo boy. Times reporters are probably investigating that at this very moment, although only Cohen may know the full truth. Will he tell it?