Via Mediaite, I wonder if Trump has heard a more chilling sentence since the start of Stormygate than the one Deutsch utters here, allegedly quoting Cohen: “You’ll be hearing my side of the story.” Presumably he doesn’t mean we’re going to hear his side in an interview on “Morning Joe.” We’re probably going to hear it after he tells it to the U.S. Attorney.
It’s nice to know that Cohen and his (former?) boss still apparently agree on something, though. Namely, that Rudy Giuliani doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
In a telephone interview with NBC News, Giuliani insisted he only shared details of the payment with Trump about a week ago.
“I don’t think the president realized he paid him (Cohen) back for that specific thing until we (his legal team) made him aware of the paperwork,” he said.
Giuliani said the president responded, “‘Oh my goodness, I guess that’s what it was for.’”
Emphasis: “About a week ago.” The WSJ exposed the Stormy payout on January 12 of this year. Since then there’s been litigation to enforce the hush-money agreement in arbitration; a lawsuit filed by Daniels; near-daily appearances on TV by Daniels’s lawyer accusing Trump and Cohen of all manner of misdeeds; a “60 Minutes” appearance by Daniels herself that drew blockbuster ratings; a federal criminal investigation of Cohen related to the payout, replete with an FBI raid; and mountains of media coverage of the whole mess. POTUS and his press secretary have been asked about it ad nauseam. And here’s Rudy trying to convince you that not until the past week or so did the president finally insist on getting to the bottom of whether he himself actually provided the money for the payout.
I’m embarrassed for Rudy that this is what he’s sunk to but maybe it’s the best he can do under the circumstances. He’s trying to thread a needle in which Trump admits to having reimbursed Cohen (since evidence of that is inevitably going to come out) but denies that he knew what the reimbursement was for. If that seems ludicrous, it is. But it’s the one explanation available that lets Trump argue that even if he did violate campaign finance laws by not reporting the payment, there’s a perfectly innocent explanation: He had no idea the money he was giving Cohen was being used for a campaign contribution. There was no intent — at least on Trump’s part — to deceive the FEC. He was just paying Cohen his monthly “retainer” and Cohen was using the money, unbeknownst to him, to pay off a supposed extortionist. Which is also ludicrous, as I explained yesterday. Cohen wouldn’t use his retainer (and couldn’t, as an ethical matter) to cover his client’s expenses. That’s supposed to be compensation for his legal work. If Trump really was fronting Cohen thousands of bucks each month for reasons *other* than compensation, i.e. for “expenses” in solving problems like chatty mistresses, well, that sounds a lot like a slush fund. But Rudy hasn’t claimed that. Yet.
The problem for Trump is that the more Rudy strains to make him the innocent victim, the more it risks pissing off Cohen. Cohen’s “story” will almost certainly be that POTUS was fully informed about the Stormy deal from day one, start to finish. Cohen had an ethical obligation to keep him informed, in fact. He probably told candidate Trump on the trail that he was going to try to feel Daniels out for a hush-money settlement, came to terms, got Trump’s approval to follow through, and then signed the agreement for him. He was just acting at his client’s behest. That wouldn’t let him off the hook for his own campaign finance violations in fronting the money for the payment (it’d be an unreported loan above the statutory cap) — but what if Cohen didn’t front the money after all, as he’s claimed? What if Trump himself quietly provided the money for the payment in October 2016? Giuliani would be hanging Cohen out to dry here by insisting that Trump was a babe in the woods who had no idea what his lawyer was up to when he was running around paying off porn stars and neglecting to tell the FEC about it. As one law prof explained:
Lawyers are required to keep their clients fully informed of their activities and are generally prohibited from advancing money to or on behalf of their clients, said Deborah L. Rhode, a scholar on legal ethics at Stanford Law School. “This is a guy who says he’ll take a bullet for the president,” she said. “And what they’re giving him is the legal ethics equivalent of a bullet.”
“Giuliani thinks he’s serving President Trump’s interest,” she said. “President Trump’s interest is not the same as Michael Cohen’s interest.”
I keep thinking back to that National Enquirer story on Cohen from a few days ago. That was a signal that POTUS was starting to distance himself from Cohen — and according to CNN, that signal was received. When CNN asked Cohen if he thought a message was being sent with the Enquirer story, Cohen reportedly replied, “What do you think.” Imagine him turning on the TV on Wednesday night and watching Rudy do his babe-in-the-woods shtick for Trump, implying that Cohen had gone rogue legally first by signing the deal with Daniels without Trump’s knowledge, then putting up the money himself to execute it, then orchestrating repayment for himself via a “retainer” without explaining to Trump what he was doing. It must have finally dawned on Cohen that, yes, they’re going to make him the fall guy for this — if he lets them.
Which, per Deutsch, it sounds like he isn’t.
In fact, I wonder if that’s why Trump and Rudy are suddenly scrambling today to claim that Rudy got some of his facts wrong. If they know Cohen’s pissed off, that makes him more likely to flip. Time to soothe him by revising the “facts” yet again. Oh, and by the way, what Deutsch says here about Giuliani seeming “unhinged” during the campaign is fair enough but it’s not fair to say that that unhingedness cost him a cabinet position. Rudy was passed over for Secretary of State but he was allegedly offered the AG job repeatedly. He didn’t want it. Being unhinged is no disqualification in a cabinet member for Trump.