President Trump said last month that he did not know about a pre-election payment to silence porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had an affair with him a decade ago, but he never actually denied financing the $130,000 nondisclosure agreement.
Now we know why.
Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani acknowledged for the first time Wednesday night that the president did put up the money for Daniels, albeit indirectly. Giuliani told Sean Hannity on Fox News that Trump paid his longtime personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, a monthly retainer of $35,000 to handle problems like the one posed shortly before Election Day by Daniels, also known as Stephanie Clifford.
Trump “didn't know about the specifics of it, as far as I know,” Giuliani said. “But he did know the general arrangement — that Michael would take care of things like this, like I take care of things like this with my clients. I don't burden them with every single thing that comes along. These are busy people.”
Giuliani said the retainer covered “a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes for Michael,” leaving the rest available as a kind of emergency fund.
Trump was asked during a brief question-and-answer session aboard Air Force One on April 5 whether he was aware at the time that Cohen gave Daniels $130,000 to sign the nondisclosure agreement in October 2016.
“No,” Trump replied. He then said “I don’t know” when asked whether he knew where the money came from. Asked whether he had created a fund from which Cohen could draw to make such payments, Trump did not respond.
It turns out that his silence might as well have been a tacit admission.
The president's nondenial that he was the ultimate financier of the nondisclosure agreement fit a pattern established by his team in and out of the White House. Cohen issued a carefully worded statement in February:
In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford. 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. The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.
Notice the glaring omission: Cohen said he was not reimbursed by the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization but did not say anything about Trump, the person.
White House spokespeople also have been coy about Trump's involvement in the payment to Daniels. Asked on Feb. 22 whether Trump knew or approved of it, deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah replied, “I haven't asked him about that.”
Asked on March 7 whether Trump knew about the payment at the time it was made, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “Not that I'm aware of.”
Trump, his attorney and spokesmen declined repeatedly to say that the president opened his wallet to keep Daniels quiet.
The closest thing to a true denial came from Cohen's attorney, David Schwartz, on Megyn Kelly's NBC show on March 29.
“Michael Cohen dispensed $130,000 of his own money and never sought reimbursement from Donald Trump?” Kelly asked.
“Hundred percent,” Schwartz answered.
Even there, the phrasing of Kelly's question left a door open. Based on Giuliani's account, it was technically true that Cohen never sought reimbursement from Trump, but that did not mean he was never reimbursed. Now we know that Cohen could simply pay himself back through Trump's retainer without asking or telling anyone.
This post has been updated.