TRUMP: Daniels payment unrelated to campaign
President Donald Trump insisted Thursday his reimbursement of a 2016 hush payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels had nothing to do with his election campaign.
But the surprise revelation of the president’s payment clashed with his past statements, created new legal headaches and stunned many in the West Wing.
White House aides were blindsided when Trump’s recently added attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said Wednesday night that the president had repaid Michael Cohen for $130,000 that was given to Daniels to keep her quiet before the 2016 election about her allegations of an affair with Trump.
Giuliani’s revelation, which seemed to contradict Trump’s past statements, came as the president’s newly configured outside legal team pursued his defense, apparently with zero coordination with the West Wing.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she first learned that Trump had repaid the hush money from Giuliani’s interview on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity.” Staffers’ phones began to buzz within moments.
Deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, who had pre-taped an interview with Fox News earlier Wednesday evening, was suddenly summoned to return for a live interview.
While Giuliani said the payment to Daniels was “going to turn out to be perfectly legal,” legal experts said the new information raised a number of questions, including whether the money represented repayment of an undisclosed loan or could be seen as reimbursement for a campaign expenditure. Either could be legally problematic.
Giuliani insisted Trump didn’t know the specifics of Cohen’s arrangement with Daniels until recently, telling “Fox & Friends” on Thursday that the president didn’t know all the details until “maybe 10 days ago.” Giuliani told The New York Times that Trump had repaid Cohen $35,000 a month “out of his personal family account” after the campaign was over. He said Cohen received $460,000 or $470,000 in all for expenses related to Trump.
But no debt to Cohen was listed on Trump’s personal financial disclosure form, which was certified on June 16, 2017. Asked if Trump had filed a fraudulent form, Sanders said: “I don’t know.”
Giuliani said the payment was not a campaign finance violation, but also acknowledged that Daniels’ hushed-up allegations could have affected the campaign, saying: “Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton.”
Questions remain about just what Trump knew and when.
Also Thursday, NBC News corrected a story that said federal investigators had placed a wiretap on Cohen’s phone lines, saying it subsequently learned that the feds were only monitoring the source of calls and weren’t listening in.
The correction gives ammunition to the nation’s highest-ranked media critic. Trump has frequently criticized the media for “fake news” involving stories he doesn’t like.
NBC moved its original story online shortly after 1 p.m. on Thursday, and it became immediate fodder on MSNBC and other cable networks. The correction was issued online at 5:27 p.m. with an editor’s note to the rewritten story, and was discussed on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press Daily.”