Rudy Giuliani, the latest addition to the White House legal team, announced on Fox News Wednesday that the president did indeed reimburse his lawyer, Michael Cohen, for the $130,000 hush-money payment Cohen made to adult film star Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels.
UPDATE 05/04/2018 4:00 PM PST: Giuliani released a statement today attempting to walk back the comments he made Wednesday, claiming that, “The payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the President’s family. It would have been done in any event, whether he was a candidate or not.”
In response, the president said that, “When Rudy made the statements — Rudy is great — but Rudy had just started, and he wasn’t totally familiar with everything.”
The president has consistently denied any knowledge of the payment as recently as last month.
On Wednesday, Giuliani, speaking on Fox with Sean Hannity, said that the president paid Cohen back in installments for the $130,000 hush-money payment the lawyer made to Clifford before the 2016 election.
Here’s the transcript of the exchange:
Rudy Giuliani: “That money was not campaign money. Sorry, I’m giving you a fact now that you don’t know. It’s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation. So—”
Sean Hannity: “They funneled it through a law firm.”
Rudy Giuliani: “Funneled through a law firm, and then the president repaid it.”
Sean Hannity: “Oh, I didn’t know. He did.”
Rudy Giuliani: “Yeah.”
In light of the admission, the president is changing his tune. He now admits that he did in fact repay his lawyer, and is shifting his focus to emphasizing that the money he used to pay Cohen back was not taken from campaign funds.
Oh, and he wants everyone to know that hush-money payments to porn stars and mistresses are very common for “people of wealth.”
The president published this Twitter rant in response to the revelation between 3:45 and 4:00 am this morning:
Here’s what Clifford’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, had to say about the whole situation speaking today on CNN:
“[If Cohen and the president structured the payment] in a way to avoid detection or in an effort to make it appear to be something that it was not, namely, a retainer payment as opposed to $130,000 reimbursement, that may involve money laundering depending on how it was handled. There also may be tax issues relating to the deductibility of those expenses. If they were deducted as legal expenses for tax purposes when in reality it had nothing to do with legal services rendered, but instead was the reimbursement of the $130,000, that too is going to be a problem,” – Avenatti
As surprised as Avenatti was to hear the revelation on cable TV, Giuliani has said that he received permission from the president to make the statements he did.
This, however, seems unlikely for reasons we’ll discuss below.
This entire situation opens up substantial possibility for charges of campaign finance fraud and even felony charges regardless of whether the money was funneled through Cohen’s law firm.
Here’s the problem: during his interview, Giuliani also posed a particularly interesting and alarming question.
“Imagine if that came out on Oct. 15, 2016, in the middle of the, you know, last debate with Hillary Clinton. Cohen didn’t even ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.”
This, this statement right here, is substantial evidence that both the nondisclosure agreement and the hush-money payment to Clifford were explicitly designed to influence and ultimately help insure the outcome of the 2016 election.
That’s a big deal.
An individual running for office can contribute as much money to their own campaign as they can, but those contributions need to be reported.
Even if the payment was funneled through Cohen’s law firm, and even if the president repaid Cohen out of his own finances and not with campaign donations, this statement proves that the whole situation was related to the outcome of the campaign, which means the payment should have been disclosed.
Since it was not, that means that Cohen and the president could – in a normal world – end up facing charges ranging from campaign finance fraud to money laundering to felony counts of failure to disclose campaign finances.
All of these possibilities carry more weight now that the president has himself admitted that the transaction occurred.
So, back to this whole “permission thing.”
Considering Cohen’s recent announcement that he would plead the fifth if called to testify in the trial between the president and Clifford, it seems strange that the president would permit Giuliani to make this admission now.
Hannity’s obvious shock at the revelation also gives us doubt that the whole thing was preplanned. Since the show host has acted as a mouthpiece for the administration in the past, it seems unlikely that he wouldn’t have been clued in on such an incoming bombshell.
Finally, the president’s own response on Twitter – just as he did when Cohen decided to plead the fifth – shows what’s really going on. We all know the president really only responds to the things that upset him; given the three max-character Tweets in the wee hours of the morning, we’re of the mind that this was one of those things.
It will be endlessly interesting to see how this situation unfolds, especially since the president recently hired attorney Emmet Flood to replace Ty Cobb.
Flood just so happens to be the same attorney who represented former President Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial in 1998.
Keep checking in with Iron Triangle Press for continued coverage of this story.
Check out today’s episode of Pod Save America for a great discussion on the whole situation.