And this scenario is the best possible construction of events that Trump and his allies have been able to put forth. The alternative is both substantially more damning and far more credible.
It has now come to light, thanks to Trump lawyer (sic) Rudy Giuliani’s interview on Fox News, that Trump reimbursed his other lawyer Michael Cohen for $130,000 in hush money that Cohen paid to Stormy Daniels before the election to keep her alleged affair with Trump quiet. To spin this in the least negative way, Giuliani is pushing the idea that Trump agreed to fork over that payment — in monthly installments — with only a faint and general sense that this money might have gone to keeping a cast of unknown accusers quiet, without wanting to know the details.
Giuliani has now developed this idea in a bit more detail. In an interview with NBC News, Giuliani said Trump had only been informed that his payments to Cohen were reimbursement for hush money in the past week or so:
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.'”
Oh my goodness, I had no idea! Oh my goodness! That totally sounds like Trump, doesn’t it?
What this really illustrates is how hard it has gotten for Trump to find a non-incriminating pathway through the minefield of basic realities that are now catching up with him.
After Giuliani dropped his bombshell on Fox News, he did an interview with BuzzFeed in which he said that Cohen had begun to complain to people after the 2016 election that he hadn’t been repaid for his payment to Daniels. Giuliani told BuzzFeed specifically that Cohen met with Trump to air his complaints. After that, Trump agreed to pay him $35,000 a month starting in the first few months of 2017.
Trump did not put this debt — which he knowingly incurred early in 2017, according to Giuliani — into his financial disclosure form, according to ethics experts Norm Eisen and Noah Bookbinder. They write this morning: “A knowing failure to report such a debt constitutes a federal crime.” Why didn’t he report it? If you accept Giuliani’s own spin — that “busy people” like Trump typically delegate such payments to their lawyers without knowing the details — he failed to disclose the debt even though it was routine. As far as I know, this omission remains unexplained.
But that aside, believing this scenario also requires believing that Cohen sat down with Trump and demanded a reimbursement without saying more about it. Now, one can imagine that, in the two-bit mob-speak that Cohen and Trump probably employ in private, Cohen might have said something like, “I just hadda take care-a bizness, and I ran up some expenses. Don’t worry about the details, I got this, Donnie.” But this just isn’t particularly credible. And if Trump did have a clearer sense of where the money went, that supplies a much better reason for leaving the debt off his financial disclosure form — and renders that act worse.
No matter which scenario you adopt, Trump has been caught in a big act of dissembling. On Air Force One in April, Trump was directly asked whether he knew about Cohen’s payment to Daniels. He said he did not. But, crucially, this exchange also happened:
Reporter: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?
Trump: No, I don’t know.
Of course, we now know Cohen got the money from Trump himself, at least retroactively. And as we now have learned, Trump knew he was giving money to Cohen to cover some sort of payment. Are we really supposed to believe he didn’t gather that this Stormy payment was what he was reimbursing? (At a minimum Trump lied by omission by leaving the debt it created off his disclosure form.) But in light of the more credible explanation, that Cohen did tell Trump what the money was for, this gets worse: Trump’s claim that he didn’t know about the payment becomes a straight-up lie. All of this explains the need to claim that Trump learned of the reason for the reimbursement only a week ago.
Even so, the official line actually implicates Cohen in an act of deception-by-omission as well. When the story of the payment to Daniels first broke, Cohen put out a statement carefully claiming that he had personally made the payment, and that “neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign” reimbursed him for it. We now know that Trump himself made the reimbursement, a fact Cohen’s statement was carefully worded to avoid denying — or revealing. Of course, now that the feds have seized Cohen’s files, we may soon learn a lot more about what Trump himself knew and when.
But special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s leaked questions show that the inquiry into those matters remains very much alive. At a minimum, even if no criminality is discovered, there will soon be an official accounting of both the collusion and Trump’s efforts to conceal it. Trump’s tower of lies is crumbling.
Update: This post has been slightly edited for accuracy and clarity.
* GIULIANI’S DISCLOSURE SURPRISED TRUMP’S LAWYERS: The New York Times reports that Rudy Giuliani’s disclosure that Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen’s hush money payments to Stormy Daniels caught Trump’s other lawyers off guard:
The president’s other lawyers ultimately determined that Mr. Giuliani had consulted with Mr. Trump, people close to them said, but were left speechless about why he decided to make the disclosure in such a high-profile way and without any strategy to handle the fallout. … People close to the president are concerned that Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani may create more problems for themselves if they consult only with each other.
Nah. These two guys totally have this in hand.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Giuliani said … that “there probably were other things of a personal nature that Michael took care of, for which the president would have always trusted him as his lawyer, as my clients do with me. And that was paid back out of the rest of the money. And Michael earned a fee out of it.” He declined to specify what those things might be.
As The Post notes, investigators were already scrutinizing a possible Cohen “pattern” of “paying hush money to keep damaging stories abut Trump from appearing.” Giuliani lent support to this notion.
The shifting statements also illustrated starkly why some of the president’s lawyers have urged him not to submit to an interview … Those lawyers have said Mr. Mueller is setting a perjury trap for Mr. Trump. What they do not say publicly is that they worry the president would be unable to avoid contradicting himself.
If anything, this understates the case: Trump’s lawyers are almost certainly worried that Trump will feel the need to lie to cover up his wrongdoing, whether on obstruction, collusion or both.
“I think it’s 50/50. But I got to prepare for that 50 percent.”
It does appear that a sit-down interview is becoming less and less likely.
Ryan defended his original decision and continued to question whether Conroy was delivering sufficient “pastoral services” to the entire House. “I intend to sit down with Father Conroy early next week so that we can move forward for the good of the whole House,” he said.
There’s some discussion of whether Ryan’s chief of staff insisted that it was time for a non-Catholic pastor, but that’s disputed. We may never know whether praying against the tax law was a key cause.
Last year, Trump’s visit to the NRA was a hero’s homecoming after the group helped put him in the White House following his unequivocally pro-Second Amendment campaign. … This time, Trump is more of a supplicant, needing vigorous turnout from pro-gun voters to offset what many Republicans fear could be a midterm election disaster in November.
Of course, the appearance could also further energize Democratic voters and even swing suburban voters who are shifting on this issue, so it could be self-defeating. Sad!