Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and a recent addition to President Trump’s legal team, said Wednesday night that Trump made a series of payments reimbursing his attorney Michael Cohen for a $130,000 settlement with adult-film actress Stormy Daniels — despite Trump’s assertion last month that he was unaware of the payment.
“The president repaid it,’’ Giuliani told Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity.
Trump “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 said. “I don’t burden them with every single thing that comes along. These are busy people.’’
After that interview, Giuliani spoke by phone with The Washington Post to discuss the immediate fallout, Trump’s knowledge of his comments and the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The following is a lightly edited transcript.
The Washington Post’s Robert Costa: When was the president told about these payments?
Rudolph W. Giuliani: He wasn’t since it was somewhere between 10 and five days before the election. And he wasn’t told. But even if he was told, he wouldn’t have remembered it, like I wouldn’t have remembered it. When, when he paid out of his own personal funds — and if you listen to Cohen’s statement, it was very careful, he said, ‘I wasn’t paid from the campaign and I wasn’t paid from the Trump Organization.’ Absolutely true. 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. This is not the kind of money that you would absolutely think of as the settlement of some kind of substantial case. It’d be more the kind of money that you’d think of to be used to pay for a harassment case, which is the way they always thought of this. They never thought of it as true. And I don’t think it’s true. And I’m absolutely positive it’s not true.
Costa: When, specifically, were the payments made?
Giuliani: Well, the original payment from Cohen was sometime right before the election. The repayments took place over a period of time, probably in 2017, probably all paid back by the end of 2017. That and probably a few other situations that might have been considered campaign expenses.
Costa: Do you know how those payments were structured in 2017?
Giuliani: Don’t know. Don’t know. Actually, I think probably in 2018. They were paid in the personal funds because they never considered this a campaign payment. This was considered more a harassment case.
Costa: In your talks with the president about this issue, has your aim been to make the case that this all wasn’t a campaign violation?
Giuliani: It wasn’t.
Costa: When did the president first learn Cohen had made the payment to Daniels on his behalf?
Giuliani: I don’t know if he distinguished it from other things Cohen might have done for him during the campaign. I don’t know that; I don’t know that he distinguished it from other expenses that Cohen had for which he had to be reimbursed. He trusted Michael and Michael trusted him. Michael knew when he laid out the $135,000 he’d get it back and the president was always going to make sure he got it back — and enough money to pay the taxes. [It is unclear why Giuliani used the $135,000 figure when Cohen’s payment to Daniels actually totaled $130,000.]
Costa: When did the president, though, recognize that these payments to Michael were going to Stormy Daniels?
Giuliani: Don’t know that. Probably now, when I told him.
Costa: But the president said on April 5 that he didn’t know about the payment.
Giuliani: Absolutely true.
Costa: Does that mean he didn’t know about the payment when it was made to Daniels, or that he didn’t know about it on April 5?
Giuliani: Both. I think. I never asked him that. So you probably should be careful. I don’t know the answer to that, except to say that when I talk to him, it seems to me that he was getting the full picture for the first time.
Costa: Just this spring?
Giuliani: Yeah. About two weeks ago.
Costa: How many payments did it take for the president to settle up with Cohen?
Giuliani: Do the arithmetic, right? $35,000 a month, probably starting in January or February. By the time you get to $250,000, it’s all paid off. Remember, he also paid for the taxes. 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. And that was paid back out of the rest of the money. And Michael earned a fee out of it.
Costa: Doesn’t cloaking these payments as retainers create a legal risk? Did the president think through that at all?
Giuliani: No, I don’t think so. A retainer can be used by a lawyer for many purposes. I don’t even know if Michael used some of Trump’s money beforehand to pay. I can’t tell you that when he made the payment [of $130,000], that some of that wasn’t already out of the money that Donald was paying him then.
Costa: Part of the reason you said this tonight is to avoid legal jeopardy over possible campaign finance violations?
Giuliani: I want them to know, “Don’t chase.” We spend so much time chasing windmills here. This is chasing windmills. I also think, personally, neither one of them saw it as a campaign thing; they thought of it as a personal thing. Personal reputation, family, wife, harassment charge. She doesn’t want a lot of money? Pay her. Let her go away. Follow me?
Costa: Did the FBI’s raid of Cohen’s offices and hotel room last month change the president’s thinking on this issue?
Giuliani: Yeah, sure. It made him a lot more reluctant to go in for an interview because he saw them as kind of like scoundrels in doing it. I mean, the president is not a lawyer, thinks of the attorney-client privilege as being sacred. Then all of a sudden, the — his United States Department of Justice is completely ignoring attorney-client privilege. Not just for him, but look at what happened to Sean Hannity. They had that whole thing. Sean Hannity was represented by Cohen, maybe made it sound like Hannity was getting some sort of sexual allegation. Turns out it was real estate advice he was getting.
Costa: Is it appropriate for federal investigators to ask about Cohen or Stormy Daniels and the payments in an interview with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III?
Giuliani: No. That’s not even on the table. But we have got to get this over with all at once. That’s not Mueller’s problem. He punted to the Southern District of New York, but we can’t punt. We’ve got to get it over with. We can’t have the president, you know, sit for an interview and have these other allegations sitting out there unresolved. This could go on for two or three years if we don’t bring it to a head.
Costa: Are you talking about Mueller or Stormy Daniels?
Giuliani: I’m talking about [audio cuts off]. Maybe Stormy. I’m not even worried about her. This may be — people may say the original explanation wasn’t that clear. But from a lawyer’s point of view, the president is now free and clear of that one.
Costa: So the president is not angry with what you said tonight? He was well aware you’d bring it up?
Giuliani: Oh, yeah, yeah. Sure, sure. He was well aware that at some point when I saw the opportunity, I was going to get this over with.
Costa: Is that what you had talked about with him in recent days?
Giuliani: Probably four or five days ago.
Costa: So you don’t think you will be fired for saying this?
Giuliani: No, no, no! I’m not going to get fired (laughs). But if I do, I do. It wouldn’t be the first time it ever happened. But I don’t think so, no. (laughs)
Costa: You said it’s time to end the investigation. Does the president feel it’s time to end the investigation?
Giuliani: He thought it should have been ended five months ago, right?
Costa: How does it end?
Giuliani: Well, if we don’t sit for an interview, Mueller has to do a report based on what he has.
Costa: Have you decided to do an interview?
Giuliani: Haven’t decided that, really haven’t.
Costa: Why keep doing a legal dance about it if you’ve already decided the investigation should end?
Giuliani: Because we’re not sure. Well, it is time for it to end, but we’re not sure we’ve gotten all of our points out yet. We might help ourselves with some explanations and we don’t want to foreclose that.
Costa: Has the president been speaking to Cohen recently?
Giuliani: No. No. No. I don’t think so. I talk to Cohen’s lawyers, Jay [Sekulow] talks to Cohen’s lawyers. But we try to make — both Jay and I know Cohen very well. And we both like him. He trusts us. So, no, he hasn’t been talking to him.
Costa: The Post has been talking to House Republicans who may try to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Would you support that sort of effort?
Giuliani: Jesus, I couldn’t get involved in something like that, like impeachment. Republicans could do it. They have — I think Rod overreacted a little bit today. If I were his lawyer, I would basically say, “You know, just call me in and I’d answer all of this.” In any event, I know Rod’s reputation is at stake, so — I’m representing one person and one person alone. All I care about is getting this investigation over with tomorrow. I cannot see a crime. I guess another reason I brought this [Cohen payments] out is this is another one of those things where they create an illusion of some crime and nobody [audio cuts off]. If somebody made an allegation against one of my clients that wasn’t true, and accepted $135,000 to settle it, I know the public may think the settlement may mean an admission of guilt, but it’s not. People settle things all the time just to get rid of harassment. The amount of money tells me this was a harassment settlement. If you’re talking $5- or $6 million, now you’d have something different.
Costa: What people are interested in here are the contradictions. You appear to contradict the president because he said he wasn’t aware of the payment.
Giuliani: He wasn’t. When it was made, he wasn’t aware of it. Was he aware that Michael incurred expenses to help him? Yes. Did he have an arrangement so that Michael knew he’d be reimbursed for it? Yes. Was the president really wise to take it out of personal funds rather than from campaign funds? Thank God he did, [or else] he’d get a campaign finance violation they’d try to drum up into a felony or something. The president is personally protected [audio cut]. Recollection? He never said this to the FBI. He never said it under oath.
Costa: Why did Cohen say for months that he used his own money?
Giuliani: He did. The original payment was his money.
Costa: But it came from President Trump at some level.
Giuliani: Is Cohen’s money fungible? Yeah, Trump was paying him a retainer. [audio cuts off]
Costa: Did the Cohen raid make the president believe this would all come out because the information on the payments was in the files?
Giuliani: He was more focused on how shocked he was that they broke into his lawyer’s office. I don’t think he even knows what kind of records there are of this payment. He didn’t focus on the records. He focused on the fact that he owed Michael money; he trusted Michael implicitly. There was no reason not to. Michael would just take back the amount of money he was owed.
Costa: Does the president have any regrets with how this all played out with the payments?
Giuliani: No. I think he’s doubtful that it played out as if there’s some crime or technical crime because no one really thought about it this way, as a campaign finance violation. It was personal.
Costa: Have you spoken with the president since your Hannity interview?
Giuliani: I did. He’s very pleased.
Costa: Very pleased?
Giuliani: He felt that somebody finally stood up and defended him, particularly with how this investigation is going.
Costa: When are you going to next meet with Mueller?
Giuliani: Don’t know. Most of the conversations are between [Sekulow] and [Assistant Special Counsel James Quarles]. I tried to go out of my way to say good things about Bob [Mueller].
Costa: You asked him about former FBI director Jim Comey in your first face-to-face meeting, asking about Comey’s credibility and how Mueller saw it.
Giuliani: Well, Comey I feel I can legitimately punch in the nose because he was my assistant and I’m embarrassed he was. I’d like to take him out of the rolls.
Costa: Back to the interview. It’s clear, it seems, that the president isn’t going to sit for one. He may do written responses. But you or Emmet Flood, who was announced as a new White House lawyer dealing with the Russia probe, are certainly not pushing for it.
Giuliani: We’re not pushing either way. But the whole way the facts have played out here does argue against an interview. That doesn’t mean — I don’t want to foreclose. Look, if we had foreclosed it, I never would have found out that the New York thing amounted to nothing and we would have found out six months from now, when the special master Barbara Jones allows everyone to see the records.
Costa: Did Cohen stop complaining to friends about this when the president started to reimburse back in mid-2017? The Wall Street Journal reported that.
Giuliani: I know nothing about that. I would say, I don’t know when they started reimbursing him. I would think it would be earlier than mid-last year.
Costa: Who was making the payments?
Giuliani: It was from his personal finance organization, from his accountant. Whoever pays out his bills.
Costa: Have you spoken with Flood about any of this today?
Giuliani: No, no. This wouldn’t be Flood’s concern anyway. Flood’s concerned with privilege, immunity. This is totally out of the realm of any kind of presidential thing. This is — look at it two ways. It was a contribution by Cohen that was over the campaign finance limit that would get Cohen in trouble. [Audio unclear] But we know under these circumstances and the way in which they exaggerate things, they’d make it more than that. But then that’s totally negated by the repayment by the president, personally, as a private citizen. So this wouldn’t concern the White House counsel at all. He’s going be concerned about, “Can you subpoena him? Can you require him to testify?” And I’d imagine on that, he’s got some pretty strong views. He did when he represented President Clinton.
Costa: What else am I missing about the payments? About how they happened.
Giuliani: They weren’t all, totally, for the $135,000. There were probably other expenses mixed up in that. But I don’t think the Cohen-Trump relationship was ever about expenses. Cohen would charge him an amount of money that was more than the expenses and he’d make his profit out of that. What I’m used to is, I spend $100,000 worth of time on a client and I bill him for it. What he did was bill $25,000 a month, make $300,000 a year and maybe $100,000 were expenses and $150,000 was profit. I’m just guessing now: That’s just an example. What the public doesn’t understand is that lawyers have the authorization up to a certain amount to spend money to protect their clients from embarrassment or unjust charges, shakedowns. That’s not uncommon.