Man, I’m glad I go to bed early like so many other old people. Had I stayed up much later last night I might have heard about Rudy Giuliani’s interview with Sean Hannity. Still relatively new to his position as President Trump’s legal adviser, Rudy had plenty to say. But one of the most notable moments came when, virtually out of the blue, he announced that Donald Trump had repaid his attorney, Michael Cohan, the $130K he gave to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged affair she had with the President. (Washington Times)
Trump adviser Rudolph W. Giuliani said Wednesday that President Trump repaid $130,000 to personal lawyer Michael Cohen to cover the money Mr. Cohen paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels.
Mr. Giuliani said the money wasn’t a campaign matter, and Mr. Trump repaid the funds himself, without using campaign cash, so there can’t be a campaign finance violation involved, as some watchdog groups had alleged.
“It’s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation,” he told Fox News host Sean Hannity. “Funneled to a law firm and the president repaid it.”
Mr. Trump had previously denied knowledge of the payment.
That was one of the bigger drop the mic moments we’ve seen in recent weeks. Given the fact that Trump has flatly denied any knowledge of that payment in the past and called everyone saying otherwise a liar, how is his attorney going on Fox News and saying that? Two possibilities come to mind.
One: Rudy had a minor stroke in the Green Room but nobody noticed and they put him on the air anyway.
The second, and far more likely explanation is that Giuliani talked it over with Trump and they decided to take a proverbial shot to the leg now to avoid one to the chest later. So how would that work?
Odds are that they’re assuming (or have confirmed) that Cohen is talking to the feds to save his own skin and is giving them all the details of the transaction with the stripper. And there’s going to be a paper trail if that sort of money is changing hands, so lying about it under oath would be a disaster. Cohen had previously stated in public that he used his own money to pay off Daniels and Trump didn’t know about it, but Giuliani was very specific with the details, even providing the amount of money provided in installments to reimburse Cohen. There’s little doubt that Cohen has already provided that detail to the feds.
Rudy also appeared to leave some wiggle room in terms of how the payments were described. As completely unlikely as it sounds, if there were some ledger entries for unspecified “legal services” going to Cohen, he’s leaving Trump room to say, hey. I have a lot of lawyers and they send me bills all the time. But even if he can’t pull that one off, Trump never testified about the stripper payment under oath so all they can do is say he lied to the press. Yes, that looks bad in the short term, but it’s still one heck of a lot better than being in court later for perjury.
The other thing that Giuliani seemed to be doing was trying to pull the rug out from under any possible claims that there was campaign money involved and some sort of violation of the law along those lines. Richard L. Hasen at Slate spends a number of paragraphs speculating about whether or not this could be a campaign finance violation but concedes that it would be a really tough case for the feds to make.
With that state of affairs, Cohen looked like he could be in legal trouble, because someone cannot make a $130,000 in-kind contribution to a federal campaign. The big question before tonight was whether the payment was campaign related. If it was wholly personal, as in made to help Trump’s marriage but not his campaign, then Cohen would be off the hook.
The case drew parallels to John Edwards’ trial for accepting similar in-kind contributions. DOJ could not get a conviction, likely because there was no smoking gun evidence indicating that payments to Edwards’ mistress were campaign related and not aimed at saving his marriage.
Assuming that Cohen did “take out a loan” to pay Daniels and was reimbursed directly from Trump’s personal bank account it’s going to be tough to make the case that it was a campaign expense. Cohen can say he was making the payment to save Trump’s marriage or just protect his professional reputation. That might be one of the objectives the feds had when they raided Cohen’s offices. If they can find some sort of documentation indicating that he was paying the stripper specifically to save Trump’s bacon in the final weeks of the campaign things could play out much worse, but how likely is it that Cohen would have been that stupid?
As the Slate article notes, the feds tried to nail John Edwards on a campaign finance violation for making payments to his mistress and couldn’t bring in a conviction. It’s similar to finding out that Trump’s barber was giving him free haircuts. Was he doing it to help him win an election or just because the liked looking his best? Tough to prove.
That idea of short-circuiting a campaign finance violation charge seems to have been reinforced on the President’s Twitter account this morning. Here we go:
This was probably a bitter pill for the President to swallow, but assuming Cohen is being chatty with the feds this might have been the best of several bad options.