President Trump says 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 still isn't denying that he financed the nondisclosure agreement.
The Washington Post's Jenna Johnson, traveling with the president Thursday, reports that Trump was asked during a brief question-and-answer session aboard Air Force One whether he was aware that his attorney Michael Cohen gave Daniels $130,000 to sign a 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.
The president's nondenial that he was the ultimate financier of the nondisclosure agreement fits a pattern. Recall Cohen's carefully worded statement last month:
In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford [Daniels's real name]. 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 spokesmen also have been coy about Trump's involvement in the payment to Daniels. Asked on Feb. 22 whether Trump knew or approved of the payment, 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 and his attorney and spokesmen have 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 last week.
“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. It might be true that Cohen never sought reimbursement from Trump, but that does not mean he was never reimbursed, especially if Trump did set up a fund for situations such as the one involving Daniels. Cohen could have simply paid himself back through such a fund without asking or telling anyone.
“Michael Cohen had great authority within that organization to take care of things,” Schwartz told Kelly. It is hard to imagine that such authority came with no money behind it — and a close examination of public statements shows that no one on Trump's team is actually claiming it did.