If there’s one rule of thumb when it comes to the Stormy Daniels saga, it’s this: That which the Trump team won’t fully deny will probably turn out to be true. It’s just happened too many times. The White House and Trump’s legal team seem more interested in avoiding questions and muddying the waters than getting out in front of a bad story. It’s the opposite of what any crisis communications consultant will tell you.
And it seems it may be happening again.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday offered another non-denial denial when asked whether Cohen may have paid off other women, in addition to Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford). “I’m not aware of any other activity,” Sanders said, “but I would refer you to Rudy Giuliani to respond to any of those questions or anybody else on the president’s outside counsel.”
In case you need a refresher, Sanders not being aware of something doesn’t mean it didn't happen. She said she learned that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the Daniels payment the same way we did: when Giuliani blurted it out on TV last week. Before that, she had denied any “knowledge of any payments from the president,” and she seemed to blame Trump for misleading her about the matter.
But pointing questions to Giuliani doesn’t shed light on much of anything, and that’s because he himself hasn’t ruled it out either. Asked on ABC's “This Week” over the weekend, Giuliani actually did less to play down the possibility of other payoffs than Sanders did.
“I have no knowledge of that,” Giuliani said. Then he added that it was possible Cohen might have seen fit to forge other such arrangements: “But I would think if it was necessary, yes."
Giuliani also, notably, has repeatedly alluded to other things for which the money Trump repaid Cohen was used, and there’s a yawning gap between the $130,000 Daniels was paid and the at least $460,000 in payments Trump made to Cohen. Here are three Giuliani quotes from last week that conspicuously mentioned other things the funds might have been used for:
- “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.”
- The repayments included “that and probably a few other situations that might have been considered campaign expenses.”
- "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.”
It seems possible Giuliani and Sanders are in the dark on this — either because Trump isn’t honest with them about it, because they would like to retain plausible deniability, or because they’re not exactly coordinating with Cohen at this point.
But it’s really difficult to believe Giuliani wouldn’t want to know this. That’s because the possibility of other such payments could affect whether the payments are viewed as a campaign finance violation. If Giuliani is handling this case for Trump, it’s exactly the kind of thing he should be apprised of. And even apart from that, it seems like the kind of thing that will come out eventually, so why not just cop to it if it’s true? Why make it look like even more of a coverup?
Giuliani last week seemed to leave the door open for further revelations about the Daniels saga, including Trump’s potential knowledge of the payments earlier than was previously acknowledged. “Even if he was told, he wouldn’t have remembered it — like I wouldn’t have remembered it," Giuliani said. And soon we found out Trump did know months earlier, at least according to the New York Times.
Now we’ll see if the other thing Giuliani seemed to be hinting at comes true, just like nearly everything else has.