WATCH: “You are claiming that Michael Cohen never ever told Donald Trump about it. No one believes that, David” - @megynkelly to Michael Cohen’s attorney David Schwartz. #MegynTODAY pic.twitter.com/MoY4KBkJte
— Megyn Kelly TODAY (@MegynTODAY) March 29, 2018
President Trump has claimed to know more than anyone about a wide range of subjects, including taxes, renewable energy, the Islamic State and the U.S. visa system. But when it comes to the activities of his own attorneys, Trump asserts no such expertise.
Take, for example, lawyer Michael Cohen's $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, who says she had an affair with Trump, beginning in 2006: In an elaborate act of distancing, the president has left the talking to White House spokesmen, who have referred reporters' questions to Cohen, who has hired his own lawyer and spokesman, David Schwartz, who told CNN on Wednesday night and NBC on Thursday morning that Trump did not know about the payment for Daniels's silence. Follow that? Good.
“No one believes that, David,” NBC's Megyn Kelly told Schwartz.
“Lots of people believe it,” Schwartz countered.
If future evidence were to contradict Schwartz, Trump could add another layer of know-nothingness, contending that he did not know what someone so far down the chain would say about the president's lack of knowledge. The plausible deniability in the Daniels saga is truly dizzying.
In a similar episode, former Playboy model Karen McDougal — who also says she had an affair with Trump — alleges in a lawsuit that Cohen worked behind the scenes on a $150,000 contract she signed with the parent company of the National Enquirer, which bought her story but did not publish it. Cohen has not addressed his alleged role in the deal, leaving the company, American Media Inc., to say that Cohen's involvement was limited to answering questions about the veracity of McDougal's account.
Trump has not said anything about what his attorney was up to in the McDougal case.
Earlier this month, John Dowd said he was speaking for the president “as his counsel” when he told the Daily Beast that the Justice Department should end special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Having triggered renewed speculation that Trump might fire Mueller, Dowd later said he was not speaking for the president, after all, but was merely expressing an opinion.
Dowd resigned from Trump's legal team five days later. On Wednesday, however, the New York Times and The Washington Post reported that Dowd last year told attorneys for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn that the president might be willing to pardon the ex-aides of any crimes uncovered by Mueller.
It is unclear whether Trump knew about the conversations, and Dowd denies discussing possible pardons. But the White House appears to be readying another ignorance plea for the president.
“White House aides and Trump's legal advisers privately expressed concern Wednesday about the situation and said Dowd may have mentioned pardons off the cuff and failed to recognize the intense sensitivity of the subject at that moment,” reported The Post's Carol D. Leonnig, Josh Dawsey and Rosalind S. Helderman.
The suggestion that Dowd was speaking “off the cuff” implies that raising the prospect of pardons was not a strategy — and certainly not one approved by a president who hoped to dissuade Manafort and Flynn from cooperating with Mueller.
It is hard to imagine that Trump — so reluctant to delegate that he previously used fake names to pose as his own spokesman in phone interviews — would give his attorneys broad discretion to act without input on his behalf. But the president, it seems, would rather appear clueless about some of his attorneys' actions than keep up his usual effort to look like the man in control.