The president’s new lawyer can’t keep his story straight.
BY ABIGAIL TRACY MAY 3, 2018
Donald Trump’s decision to hire Rudy Giuliani as his personal attorney appeared to backfire spectacularly on Wednesday night as the former prosecutor veered off script during an interview with Sean Hannity, as Giuliani undercut the president’s public statements on several issues, including his relationship with his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen and the ouster of former F.B.I. Director James Comey. But the most startling disclosure was Giuliani’s assertion that Trump not only knew about Cohen’s $130,000 payment to buy the silence of adult-film star Stormy Daniels about her alleged affair with the president, but that he reimbursed Cohen for the hush money—potentially implicating Trump in a violation of campaign-finance laws.
Giuliani offered the admission unprompted, in response to an unrelated question about the status of the ongoing Trump-Russia investigation. The payment to Daniels, he asserted, would “turn out to be perfectly legal” because the money came out of Trump’s own pocket. “Sorry, I’m giving you a fact now that you don’t know,” he continued. “It’s not campaign money. No campaign-finance violation.”
When Cohen first acknowledged the payment in February, his insisted that the president had no knowledge of it. “I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford,” Cohen said in a statement. “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.” In March, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that she has conversations with Trump about hush money and “There was no knowledge of any payments from the president.” When Trump himself was asked whether he knew about the $130,000 sum, his response was terse: “No,” he said, adding, “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen.”
Recognizing that Giuliani had made a potentially damning admission, Hannity offered the former presidential candidate an opportunity to clarify his comments about the payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. But Giuliani didn’t take it. “The question there was, the only possible violation there would be: was it a campaign-finance violation? Which usually results in a fine, by the way, not this big stormtroopers coming in and breaking down his apartment and breaking down his office,” Giuliani explained. “That was money that was paid by his lawyer, the way I would do, out of his law firm funds or whatever funds—it doesn’t matter—and the president reimbursed that over the period of several months.” (Giuliani later told The New York Times that the repayment had been made in $35,000 installments, over several months, totaling “$460,000 or $470,000”—an amount, he said, that included “incidental expenses.”)
In a series of tweets Thursday morning, Donald Trump described these payments as “a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign.” But legal experts were immediately skeptical of the idea that the arrangement would not have constituted an illegal, “in kind” campaign contribution. According to Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, a “contribution” is defined as “any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” Notably, the money does not need to come from a campaign’s coffers. “If Trump knew that Cohen was advancing him a $130,000 loan for campaign purposes, that would have to be reported by the campaign, as would the payments Giuliani said Trump made in installments to Cohen. These would be campaign expenditures that the committee has to keep track of,” Richard Hasen, a professor of election law at the University of California-Irvine, wrote for Slate.
It’s also an incredibly high-risk legal strategy, given that federal agents recently raided Cohen’s properties, giving prosecutors for the Southern District of New York access to thousands of documents potentially related to the investigation. As Hasen notes, the argument that “Trump did not know the specifics of what Cohen was doing; just that Cohen was the fixer taking care of things just like Giuliani said he did for his clients,” is a “defense that could well be corroborated or rejected based on what’s in the seized Cohen materials.”
Trump and Giuliani may have drawn inspiration from a similar scandal involving former Senator John Edwards, who was indicted after it was revealed that his donors paid his pregnant mistress during the 2008 presidential election. Ultimately, prosecutors were unable to convince a jury that the donors sought to influence the election, rather than simply hide the affair from Edwards’s wife. If Trumpworld can convincingly muddy the waters about what Trump knew, and when he knew it, any legal exposure may be limited to Cohen.
Giuliani, however, is a loose cannon, and is already struggling to keep his story straight. In a follow-up interview with Fox & Friends on Thursday morning, Trump’s new lawyer appeared to undermine his own position. “Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton?” he asked, suggesting that the payment was, in fact, related to the presidential campaign, and not simply a personal matter. “Cohen made it go away,” he added. “He did his job.”
Even if Trump can pin the blame on Cohen, he could still be on the hook for not reporting the repayment as a campaign expense. “It seems that Trump in effect received a loan from Cohen that he later paid back, yet Trump apparently did not disclose that loan on the financial disclosure for 2016 that Trump filed in 2017,” Kathleen Clark, an ethics and law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told me. “Failing to disclose that loan might constitute a false statement to the federal government, a criminal violation.” According to Federal Election Commission guidelines, “If a candidate obtains a bank loan for campaign-related purposes, the committee must report the loan from the candidate as a receipt and repayment of the loan to the candidate as a disbursement.”
Daniels’s attorney Michael Avenatti said that he was “stunned” and “speechless” in the wake of Giuliani’s disclosure. “If this is accurate, the American people have been lied to and deceived for months. And justice must be served,” he said. Paul S. Ryan, the vice president for policy and litigation at the government watchdog group Common Cause, also argued that Giuliani had increased the president’s legal liability. “Giuliani seemingly thought he was doing President Trump a favor—but instead made Trump’s legal problems much, much worse,” he told the Times.
Witchy sez : As a lawyer's wife , a lawyer of Giuliani status should know a slip of the tongue is no favor ... this may be a way to get even with tRUMP for ignoring him in the past
The tide is turning .....HeHe