After days of media appearances intended to explain President Trump’s role in a legal settlement with an adult-film star that only raised fresh questions about the payment, his new attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani on Sunday said Trump still has confidence in him and believes the media blitz “all worked out.”
“I’ll give you the conclusion: We all feel pretty good that we’ve got everything kind of straightened out and we’re setting the agenda,” Giuliani, the former New York mayor who recently joined Trump’s legal team, said in an interview with The Washington Post. Giuliani said he met with the president at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., to discuss developments and legal strategy.
“Everybody’s reacting to us now, and I feel good about that because that’s what I came in to do,” he said.
“We’ve made a deal this weekend: He stays focused on North Korea, Iran and China, and we stay focused on the case and we’ll bother him when we have to,” Giuliani said of his meeting with Trump.
Since last week, Giuliani has made various assertions about the $130,000 that Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen paid to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film star who said she had a relationship with Trump a decade before he won the presidency. On Friday, after Trump said that Giuliani needs to “get his facts straight” about the payment, Giuliani appeared to walk back some of his comments, saying he was still learning the facts of the case. Trump and White House officials have also weighed in on the payment.
And after all of these media appearances and statements, the only thing that is clear is how little has been cleared up.
Giuliani began his media blitz last week on Fox News by saying that Trump had reimbursed Cohen for the payment to Daniels in 2016 in exchange for her silence. More interviews — and more claims — soon followed. Giuliani told The Post that Trump repaid Cohen in 2017, which would predate Trump’s assertion last month that he did not know about the Daniels payment or where Cohen got the money. During one of his follow-up appearances on Fox, Giuliani also seemed to link the payment to the looming 2016 election.
“My issue is getting up to speed on the facts here,” Giuliani told George Stephanopoulos during an interview Sunday on ABC News’s “This Week.” “I’m about halfway there.”
Giuliani’s freewheeling remarks in the ABC interview included commenting that it was possible Cohen paid off other women, assailing the special counsel probe investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, comparing former FBI director James B. Comey to Judas and calling Daniels “opportunistic.”
In a statement Friday, Giuliani said that Cohen’s payment was made to resolve a “personal and false allegation” rather than protect Trump’s campaign on the eve of the election.
Giuliani’s comments on Sunday were notable for how much he said he still did not know on his fifth consecutive day of media interviews. During his ABC interview, Giuliani said that he did not know when Trump learned about the payment, when Trump discovered Daniels would take money to remain quiet about her allegations and why Trump publicly denied knowing about a payment for which he had already reimbursed Cohen.
When asked by The Post if he was confident that Trump had no knowledge of the payments to Daniels during the campaign, Giuliani declined to directly answer, instead repeating his argument that no campaign finance laws were broken.
“The critical thing is, it wasn’t a campaign finance violation,” he said. “It was a personal thing, not something that should be looked at by a prosecutor.”
Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert in legal ethics, said Giuliani’s interview Sunday reminded her of a garden hose that was whipping around wildly because nobody had a handle on it yet: “Just erratic, unpredictable, aimless.”
Still, she said, the appearances also made her wonder what Giuliani’s goals were on television and whether he understood campaign finance law.
“When he starts on a matter and the matter’s ongoing and he needs to get up to speed, yes, there’s risk involved in making any statement,” she said. “But what’s even more striking to me is, I couldn’t tell what he thought he was going to accomplish.”
Experts have said the timing of the Daniels payment raises possible campaign finance issues, as does the fact that it was never revealed in financial disclosure forms. A watchdog group has filed complaints about the transaction with the Federal Election Commission and Justice Department.
Michael Avenatti, an attorney for Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, appeared on “This Week” after Giuliani and sharply dismissed the former mayor’s claim that the payment had nothing to do with the campaign.
“This guy’s all over the map over the last 72 hours on some very simple facts that should be very straightforward,” Avenatti said. “I think it is obvious . . . to the American people that this is a coverup, that they are making it up as they go along. They don’t know what to say because they’ve lost track of the truth.”
Giuliani also said Sunday that Cohen is no longer Trump’s attorney. Cohen did not respond to a message on Sunday regarding that claim or whether he had made payments to other women.
Trump, who has denied the affair, told reporters aboard Air Force One last month that he did not know about the payment to Daniels or where Cohen got the money to make the payment. After Giuliani said Trump reimbursed Cohen, the president’s Twitter account posted a statement saying Cohen was repaid through a monthly retainer.
Trump was asked Friday about his contrasting statements, and he denied changing his story, telling reporters to “take a look at what I said” in his remarks aboard Air Force One. He did not elaborate.
On Sunday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Trump’s comments on Air Force One were actually him saying he did not know about the payment when it was made.
“I’m going to relay to you what the president has told me, which is the best I can do,” Conway said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I asked the president what he meant. And he said, ‘I didn’t know about it when the payment occurred.’ ”
Conway denied that the White House has a problem with credibility, saying of Trump’s remarks: “He spoke honestly. He said no, which refers to when the payment occurred.”
The Post’s Fact Checker has analyzed Trump’s public statements since he took office and has found that, so far, he has made more than 3,000 false or misleading claims, an average of nearly 6.5 such claims per day.
In his interviews Sunday with The Post and ABC News, Giuliani made multiple unprompted criticisms of Daniels for her appearance the night before on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”
He also repeatedly sought to highlight on Sunday the comments made by T.S. Ellis III, a federal judge who last week sharply questioned the special counsel’s fraud case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Ellis said that the special counsel’s team is only interested in getting information on Trump that could “lead to his prosecution or impeachment.”
Giuliani called the judge’s comments a “pretty serious blow,” and he added in reference to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III: “I feel bad for Bobby.”
During his ABC interview, Giuliani insisted that Trump would not have to comply if Mueller subpoenas the president. He also suggested that it was possible Trump could invoke the Fifth Amendment if he sat down with Mueller’s team, which is seeking to interview the president.
“We don’t have to” comply with a subpoena, Giuliani said, a situation that could make its way to the Supreme Court if it is not resolved. “He’s the president of the United States. We can assert the same privileges other presidents have.”
Giuliani told The Post that Ellis’s remarks “probably makes it much more defensible for [the president] not to be interviewed.”