What many close observers suspected about the Stormy Daniels payment has proved true, despite the Trump team's best efforts to cover it up: President Trump was behind it, even if he didn't necessarily know about it.
Trump's attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani on Wednesday night confirmed what Trump and Michael Cohen conspicuously and curiously wouldn't deny: Trump reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. Giuliani slipped the confirmation into an interview Wednesday night with Sean Hannity on Fox News.
“They funneled it through a law firm, and the president repaid it,” Giuliani said, adding: “Everybody was nervous about this from the very beginning; I wasn't. I knew how much money Donald Trump put into that campaign. I said 130,000? Gonna do a couple of checks for 130,000. When I heard Cohen's retainer of 35,000 — when he was doing no work for the president — I said, that's how he's repaying it. With a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes for Michael.”
Giuliani added: “He didn't know about the specifics of it, as far as I know. 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.”
Giuliani was right that “everybody was nervous about this,” and that most notably included Cohen and Trump. Both skirted questions about whether Trump had reimbursed Cohen for the payment ever since it was first reported in January.
Update: Trump has now confirmed the arrangement that Giuliani described.
When Cohen first commented on it, he denied that the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization were behind it, but he did not specifically deny that Trump himself was party to the transaction. Cohen also said that he “facilitated” the payment, which suggested he might not have been the ultimate source of the funds.
Here's what Cohen said at the time:
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.
Trump himself avoided commenting on the matter for months. When he finally responded two weeks ago, he denied knowing about the transaction, but he tellingly did not respond to a question about whether he might have reimbursed Cohen through some other method.
Here's the back and forth:
Q: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
TRUMP: No. No. What else?
Q: Then why did Michael Cohen make those if there was no truth to her allegations?
TRUMP: Well, you'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. And you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.
Q: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?
TRUMP: No, I don't know. No.
Q: Did you ever set up a fund of money that he could draw from?
That non-answer, it turns out, wasn't a coincidence. According to Giuliani, the “fund of money” was Trump's regular retainer to Cohen, which seems to have been what amounts to a slush fund for Cohen to deal with Trump's various problems.
But perhaps the most blatantly false denial came from Cohen's lawyer and spokesman, David Schwartz, who back in March denied that Trump ever reimbursed Cohen. He said it with “100 percent” certainty. Now Guiliani says Trump did in fact “repay” Cohen.
That all leads to the question: Why not just admit it? If you've got nothing to hide and all this is on the up-and-up, why avoid the question for months and offer the two non-denial denials and the one false denial above? (For more on the legal implications, see Philip Bump's piece.) The inescapable conclusion, now that Cohen faces significant legal jeopardy, is that Trump's team is either trying to get ahead of what might come of that case, or that they are trying to solidify the attorney-client relationship in order to claim that Cohen's communications with Trump were privileged.
Either way, it's clear nobody wanted to admit this for a very good reason. But a porn star and the Mueller investigation have now forced it out of Team Trump.