President Trump and Michael Cohen have been forced into admissions about the Stormy Daniels situation that they clearly didn't want to make. First, Cohen denied the affair between Trump and Daniels but conspicuously didn't address the payment. Then he admitted to the payment but conspicuously didn't address Trump's involvement. Then Trump said Cohen was acting as his attorney but conspicuously didn't address whether he had reimbursed Cohen via a slush fund. Now it turns out that there was something of a slush fund, in the form of Cohen's retainer.
Each of these conspicuous non-denial denials turned out to be conspicuous for a reason: because they were hiding something. And in nearly every public comment, there has been a hint of what might lie ahead that the Trump team didn't want to confirm or deny.
So what hints might lie in Rudolph W. Giuliani's confirmations that Trump did reimburse Cohen? Here are a few:
Giuliani to The Post's Robert Costa: Trump “wasn’t told, but even if he was told, he wouldn’t have remembered it — like I wouldn’t have remembered it.”
And about Trump's denials: Trump “never said this to the FBI. He never said it under oath.”
This sounds a lot like Giuliani is guarding against the possibility that Trump was, in fact, told about the payment — even as he denied that Trump was. Giuliani contends that even if Trump was told about it, he wouldn't have remembered it and that he wasn't “under oath.”
That's not to say Trump's lawyers know the president was told about it and are lying, but it does sound as if Giuliani is covering everyone's backsides in case Trump's memory failed him or he hasn't been forthcoming. They can just claim that the president forgot or, if things get really desperate, that it wasn't a crime. And given that they've covered up or obscured so much about this situation, it can't be ruled out that we ultimately find out that Trump did know about the payment.
In addition, the first quote doesn't exactly pass the smell test. A presidential candidate on the cusp of an election wouldn't remember being told about a $130,000 hush-money payment made to a porn star on his behalf? And even if you consider that plausible, how does Giuliani know so much about how well Trump's memory works?
It's an odd assertion. And it's conspicuous that Giuliani chose to make it.
Giuliani: “He was paid by Donald Trump’s personal funds. And he was paid out of personal funds, which covered that, and possibly a few other things that, you know, would be considered incidental.”
And: The repayments included “that and probably a few other situations that might have been considered campaign expenses.”
And: “Then 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.”
Giuliani repeatedly mentioned other things for which Cohen used the money. That could simply be to drive home the fact that his retainer wasn't used only for Daniels's hush money.
But it seems somewhat odd that he kept bringing it up. Will there be other payments of a similar nature that are revealed? As Philip Bump has noted, that could bolster the case that the Daniels payment wasn't geared toward the election and, thus, wasn't a campaign finance violation. If Cohen conducted business similar to the Daniels payment that had nothing to do with the campaign or happened outside the campaign season, that might be their best defense.
BuzzFeed reports: “In a conversation with BuzzFeed News, Giuliani later said that Cohen, Trump's longtime personal lawyer, 'had complained to some people' after the 2016 election that he’d not been fully paid by Trump. At some point — Giuliani said he did not know when or where specifically — Cohen met with Trump and told him of his complaint. Giuliani said that Trump told Cohen, 'We’ll cover your expenses,' and agreed to pay him $35,000 a month 'out of his personal funds' over the course of a year-long period that began in the first few months of 2017 and has since ended.”
There have been conflicting signals, but this suggests that the $35,000 monthly retainer was set up specifically in response to Cohen's need for reimbursement on the Daniels payment. That's significant, because it means this wasn't a preexisting arrangement, and it means that Cohen directly asked for payment — somehow without saying specifically what it was for.
It seems quite possible that Giuliani knows this conversation will eventually come out in Cohen's court case and wants to get ahead of that story. The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Cohen had been grousing about his lack of reimbursement, and now Giuliani is confirming that report.
Of course, that doesn't change the fact that it's a difficult circle to square — the idea that Cohen has to specifically ask for payment for something he didn't tell Trump anything about.