- President Donald Trump’s new defence attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has indicated on Fox News that Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, paid off a porn star shortly before the 2016 election to help protect Trump’s candidacy.
- Giuliani said Trump was aware of the $US130,000 payment at the time and reimbursed Cohen in installments over several months as part of Cohen’s salary.
- Experts say the revelation puts Trump in legal jeopardy.
President Donald Trump’s lead defence lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, just threw cold water on claims that a $US130,000 payment from Trump’s personal attorney to a porn star during the 2016 election did not violate campaign finance laws.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, has said he used his own money to pay Stormy Daniels, the porn star whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Trump initially said he did not know of and was not involved in the payment.
But on Wednesday, Giuliani told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that Trump had “reimbursed” Cohen shortly after the election in installments “over a period of several months.”
Both Giuliani and Trump have since sought to underscore that the payment was not made to protect Trump’s candidacy, but rather as part of Cohen’s regular salary and to prevent Daniels from spreading what they characterised as “false and extortionist accusations” about Trump.
But on Thursday, Giuliani’s explanation evolved in a way that could prove legally damaging to Trump and Cohen.
Speaking to the “Fox & Friends” host Ainsley Earhardt, Giuliani reiterated that Cohen was reimbursed, saying Cohen was being “treated like some kind of villain” for trying to help Trump’s family – as opposed to the Trump campaign.
“Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton,” Giuliani said. “Cohen made it go away. He did his job.”
Experts in campaign finance law have said that if Cohen paid Daniels to protect Trump’s candidacy ahead of the election, it could be considered an in-kind political contribution and would violate the individual contribution limit of $US2,700.
Legal experts also said that if Trump was aware of the payment, he could face legal exposure for not properly disclosing it and his reimbursement to Cohen on campaign finance forms.
Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Justice Department, said of Giuliani’s disclosure: “Rudy has successfully argued the campaign finance violation in the past 24 hours.”
“Cohen paid Daniels the hush money, Trump reimbursed Cohen, and Cohen did this to help elect Trump and avoid a debate issue,” he added. “It’s irrelevant whether the reimbursement came from campaign donations, the Trump Organisation, or spare change from Trump’s couch.”
Patrick Cotter, a longtime former federal prosecutor who has worked with members of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, echoed that view.
“This is bad,” Cotter said. “I imagine Mr. Giuliani wishes he hadn’t said that. When you admit that the motive – or at least a motive – for the $US130,000 payment was to keep Stormy Daniels from doing something you fear may interfere with the campaign, it’s a direct violation of campaign finance laws, at a minimum.”
The Manhattan US attorney’s office is investigating whether Cohen committed bank fraud or wire fraud or violated campaign finance laws. Mueller’s team is investigating whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, as well as whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice.
Also on Thursday, NBC News reported that federal investigators had wiretapped Cohen’s phones and intercepted at least one call with the White House.
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