How the president and his defenders' explanations of the Stormy Daniels scandal have evolved over time

SNLStormy Daniels appears on ‘Saturday Night Live’ with Alec Baldwin playing President Donald Trump on May 5, 2018.

The scandal involving President Donald Trump, his longtime fixer Michael Cohen, and porn star Stormy Daniels unravelled in early March, as team Trump confirmed a story he had spent the past months denying.

On August 21, Cohen struck a deal to plead guilty to eight federal crimes, including one count of making an illegal campaign finance contribution on the same day that a $US130,000 payment to Daniels was finalised.

Cohen said he made the illegal campaign contribution to Daniels at the direction of Trump in order to influence the election.

In a series of statements, tweets, and on-air appearances, the president and his defenders have changed their statements considerably over time. Here’s how:


First, what Stormy Daniels and her lawyer Michael Avenatti have said:

Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesAdult film actress and director Stormy Daniels hosts a Super Bowl party at Sapphire Las Vegas Gentlemen’s Club in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 4, 2018.

Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, first gave a full interview detailing a one night stand and months-long contact with Trump to In Touch magazine in 2006, five years before his personal attorney would send her $US130,000 just 10 days before the 2016 election.

The story was buried after Trump’s personal attorney reportedly threatened to sue the magazine.

On March 6, Daniels filed a suit that the non-disclosure agreement Cohen had her sign in October 2016 was void because it was missing Trump’s signature.

After that, she started doing interviews to tell her side of the story. On March 25, she appeared on “60 Minutes”, and said Trump told her in 2006 “you remind me of my daughter” after she spanked him with a magazine, that they allegedly had unprotected sex, and that he told her “not to worry” about his wife or newborn son at the time.

Daniels said a man threatened her and her infant daughter in 2011, releasing a composite sketch of him on April 17. When Trump tweeted the photo and called the stunt a”total con job“, Daniels sued him for defamation.

On May 8, Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti alleged that Cohen received $US500,000 from a Russian oligarch after the 2016 election. Avenatti claimed that Cohen received the payments, which were meant to reimburse Cohen for paying Daniels, in two separate installments in 2017.

Later that week, on May 11, Avenatti challenged Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani to a debate over the Daniels case. Giuliani responded by saying, “I don’t get involved with pimps.”

On May24, Daniels and Avenatti tried to revive their civil lawsuit against Trump and Cohen. They argued that comments made by Trump and Giuliani brought light to new issues in the case. Giuliani responded by saying the claim made “no sense”, while Avenatti said that Giuliani is “clueless.”

Daniels filed a new lawsuit on June 6, accusing her former attorney Keith Davidson of betraying her and becoming a “puppet” for Trump and Cohen while he was representing her.

After Cohen struck a plea deal on August 21 with prosecutors to plead guilty to eight federal crimes and said that he had made illegal campaign contributions at the direction of Trump, Daniels celebrated the newsby tweeting: “How ya like me now?! #teamstormy.”

“And thank you Michael Avenatti,” she added in an ensuing tweet, addressing her lawyer.

She also told NBC News in a statement: “Michael and I are vindicated and we look forward to the apologies from the people who claimed we were wrong.”


What Michael Cohen has said over time:

Yana Paskova/Getty Images

Though he’s at the center of the payments in question, Cohen has had some of the most combative answers relaying the facts of this case.

In a matter of three months, Cohen denied, admitted, and took the blame for the payment to Daniels before resigning to relative silence amid three separate investigations into his actions.

January 17: “An old and debunked story”

Cohen denied any affair with Trump or payment to Daniels in an email to The New York Times, saying the story was “old news that wasn’t true then, not true now.”

February 13: “The payment was lawful”

Cohen then admitted to paying Daniels and told The Times that the settlement was a private transaction.

“Neither the Trump Organisation nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” Mr. Cohen said in a statement to the Times. “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”

March 9: “I wired it to an IOLA account in Beverly Hills”

Cohen released an October 2016 email from his Trump Organisation account in a statement to ABC News, saying it was proof of a money transfer between accounts at First Republic Bank two weeks before the presidential election, which he said was to pay Daniels.

April 25: Pleading the 5th

Cohen’s lawyer said he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the Daniels case amid the heightened criminal investigation.

July 2: “I put family and country first”

In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Cohen broke his silence on the federal criminal investigation into him and publicly split with Trump, saying he would “put family and country first”. He said he couldn’t answer whether Trump told him to pay Daniels.

“I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way,” Cohen said.

August 1: Gag order request denied

A federal judge denied Cohen’s request for a gag order on Daniels and Avenatti. Cohen wanted to stop Daniels and Avenatti from discussing their case against Trump with the public, claiming that Avenatti had been running a “smear campaign” against him.

August 21: Trump told me to pay Daniels

Cohen struck a guilty plea deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to eight federal crimes, including five counts of tax evasion, one count of bank fraud, one count of making an unlawful corporate contribution, and one count of making an illegal campaign finance contribution.

During his plea entry, Cohen said he had made the illegal campaign and corporate contributions at the direction of Trump with the goal of influencing the election.

August 22: Trump should testify under oath

Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis told Business Insider that Cohen made his statements under oath, facing perjury if he lied, so Trump should do the same if he’s accusing Cohen of lying.

“If they think he lacks credibility, even though it was the US attorney that caused him to say that, because that was their evidence, then let’s put Donald Trump under oath and deny it,” Davis said.


What Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani has said over time:

Newly appointed attorney Rudy Giuliani exceeded what any member of Trump’s orbit had previously said about the payment within days of joining Trump’s legal team.

May 2: “The president repaid it”

In an on-air interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Giuliani said Trump reimbursed Cohen for the payment and referred to it as a retainer that was paid “over several months”. That revelation contradicted what Trump had been saying for weeks.

“He didn’t know about the specifics of it, as far as I know,” Giuliani said when asked whether Trump knew the payment was to Daniels. “But he did know about the general arrangement, that Michael would take care of things like this, like I take care of things like this for my clients. I don’t burden them with every single thing that comes along. These are busy people.”

May 3: “Cohen made it go away”

Opening Trump up to legal jeopardy under campaign finance laws, Giuliani appeared on “Fox & Friends” and said 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.”

May 4: “There is no campaign violation”

“There is no campaign violation,” Giuliani said in a statement. “The payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the President’s family. It would have been done in any event, whether he was a candidate or not.”

He added: “My references to the timing were not describing my understanding of the President’s knowledge, but instead, my understanding of these matters.”

May 5: “I’m not an expert on the facts yet”

“This is, you know, 1.2 million documents. I’ve been in the case for two weeks. Virtually one day, in comparison to other people. So I’m not an expert on the facts, yet. I’m getting there,”Giuliani said on Fox News. “The fact is there is no way this is a campaign finance violation of any kind, nor was it a loan. It was an expenditure.”

He added: “Even if it was a campaign donation, the president reimbursed it fully with a payment of $US35,000 a month that paid for that and other expenses. No need to go beyond that. Case over.”

May 6: It’s possible Cohen paid off other women to stay silent about alleged affairs with Trump

Calling the $US130,000 a “nuisance payment,” Giuliani told ABC’s “This Week” that he didn’t know whether Cohen had made other payments, adding, “I would think if it was necessary, yes. He made payments for the president or he’s conducted business for the president.”

May 11: No discrepancy

Giuliani said there is no discrepancy between his past statements and Trump’s financial disclosure on the $US130,000 payment from Cohen to Daniels. Giuliani said the inclusion of the payment in Trump’s financial disclosure form “vindicates” their position.

June 6-7: Melania Trump doesn’t believe it, Daniels ‘has no good name’

Giuliani said first lady Melania Trump “believes her husband” and “doesn’t think” he had an affair with Daniels.

The first lady’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, told The New York Times: “I don’t believe Mrs. Trump has ever discussed her thoughts on anything with Mr. Giuliani.”

Giuliani also attacked Daniels’ credibility.

“I respect women – beautiful women and women with value – but a woman who sells her body for sexual exploitation I don’t respect,” Giuliani said. “Tell me what damage she suffered. Someone who sells his or her body for money has no good name. “If you’re going to sell your body for money, you just don’t have a reputation. I may be old fashioned, I don’t know.”

Avenatti called Giuliani’s claims “disgusting and a disgrace” and urged Trump to fire the “misogynist” Giuliani.

Trump did not disagree with his lawyer on the matter.

August 21: “There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President”

After Cohen struck a plea deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to eight federal crimes and said he had made illegal campaign contributions at the direction of Trump, Giuliani said it did not implicate the president.

“There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen,” Giuliani said in a statement to The New York Times. “It is clear that, as the prosecutor noted, Mr. Cohen’s actions reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time.”


What President Donald Trump has said over time:

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Finally, Trump himself has pointed blame in many different directions in his statements on TV, on Twitter, and in press interviews.

March 26: “So much Fake News”

Trump tweeted about “Fake News” one day after Daniels’ tell-all interview with “60 Minutes.”

April 5: “No”

Aboard Air Force One, replied “no” to a reporter asking if he knew about any payments Daniels had described, and told reporters to instead ask Cohen. It was his first public comment on the $US130,000 payment.

May 3: “This was a private agreement”

After Giuliani said on air that Trump had repaid Cohen for the hush money, Trump tweeted to defend Giuliani’s statements and explained the payments were a retainer and that the money was not related to his campaign.

May 4: “Virtually everything said has been said incorrectly”

A day after tweeting in Giuliani’s defence, Trump called the resulting firestorm a “witch hunt” and vaguely criticised the candid revelations, saying Giuliani will “get his facts straight” with time.

May 16: Trump lists the Daniels payment on his financial disclosure form

Trump listed a $US100,001-$US250,000 reimbursement to Cohen on his 2018 financial disclosure form. Cohen had paid Daniels $US130,000 in October 2016.

The Office of Government Ethics, which released the form, said Trump should have disclosed the payment in his 2017 filing.

August 22:
Don’t hire Cohen

After Cohen struck a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to eight federal crimes and said he had made illegal campaign contributions at the direction of Trump, the president took to Twitter to respond to his former lawyer’s guilty plea.

“If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” Trump wrote.

Trump then tweeted that the two counts of campaign finance violations Cohen pleaded guilty to “are not a crime.”

August 22: “They didn’t come out of the campaign – they came from me”

In an interview with Fox News, Trump said he, not his campaign, funded the hush-money payments Cohen arranged to two women who say they had affairs with him.

When Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt asked whether he knew about the payments to the women – the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and the former Playboy model Karen McDougal – Trump said he knew “later on.”

“They didn’t come out of the campaign – they came from me,” Trump said.

Trump also tweeted that Cohen was lying, accusing his former lawyer of “mak[ing] up stories in order to get a ‘deal.'”


What White House officials have said over time:

The president’s spokespeople have fielded many, many questions about the Daniels scandal, and have provided varying answers over time.

March 7: “No knowledge of the payments from the president”

In a White House press briefing, Sanders said she had discussed the payments with the president and that he had “denied” the allegations.

March 26: White House denies all of Daniels’ claims

After Daniels’ “60 Minutes” interview aired, White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah told reporters during the press briefing that Trump was standing by his version of the story.

“I can say categorically, obviously, that the White House did not engage in any wrongdoing. The campaign or Mr. Cohen can address anything with respect to their actions,” Shah said.

“With respect to that interview, I will say that the president strongly, clearly, and has consistently denied these underlying claims, and the only one who has been inconsistent is the one making the claims.”

May 3: “The president didn’t know at the time”

Sanders revealed at a White House press briefing that she first learned about the payments from Giuliani’s interview the night before and defended Giuliani’s comment that “This was information that the president didn’t know at the time, but eventually learned.”

May 6: Trump meant something else when he said “no”

Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said Trump denying knowledge of the hush payments on April 5 referred to not knowing at the time the payment occurred – not at the time when the question was asked – which she said she clarified with him in private.

August 22: “He did nothing wrong”

During the first White House press briefing after Cohen’s plea deal, Sanders said a question if Trump has ever lied to the American people was a “ridiculous accusation.”

“As the President has stated on numerous occasions, he did nothing wrong,” she told reporters. “There are no charges against him in this. And just because Michael Cohen made a plea deal doesn’t mean that that implicates the President on anything.”

For months, Sanders has also been directing reporters to ask Trump’s outside counsel, Giuliani, about any matters related to the Daniels case, and denied that Trump has done anything wrong.

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