Damage (out of) control
As Rudy Giuliani put it, Michael Cohen’s job for Donald Trump was to “take care of things like this” — meaning the hush money for Stormy Daniels — and make them “go away.”
Unfortunately for Cohen and Trump, they didn’t stay away.
Moving on: Giuliani is now the one taking on a fixer role as Trump’s personal lawyer to solve problems like special counsel Robert Mueller and the fallout from the Daniels payoff revelation.
Which is why, he says, he went on Fox News’ “Hannity” to drop a bombshell: that the president had ultimately covered the $130,000 it cost Cohen to muzzle the porn star, who said she had sex with him. In an interview with The Washington Post, Giuliani said he told Trump in advance that “when I saw the opportunity, I was going to get this over with.”
Score that as a giant swing and a miss for Trump’s latest cleanup hitter.
Besides exposing a big Trump lie, the revelation further cratered the credibility of White House spokespersons who parroted the president’s claim of not knowing about the money. Giuliani’s explanation elevated, instead of shooting down, suspicions that the October 2016 payment amounted to an illegal campaign contribution.
It left many questions unanswered, including just when Trump knew that Cohen arranged the silencing deal. See Laura Figueroa Hernandez’s story for Newsday.
See Rudy spin
Click here for video of Giuliani’s Wednesday night “Hannity” interview. The comments on the Daniels payment begin at the 11-minute mark. Click here for Giuliani’s appearance on “Fox & Friends” Thursday.
Money for nothing
Trump tweeted, in language suggesting lawyerly writing assistance, his own new explanation of the porn star payoff. He said such nondisclosure agreements are “very common among celebrities and people of wealth.”
He disputed Daniels’ “false and extortionist accusations — pointing to the letter Cohen obtained from her in January “admitting that there was no affair.” Daniels later said she was coerced into making the statement.
That Daniels letter also said: “Rumors that I have received hush money from Donald Trump are completely false.”
Trump didn’t mention that sentence in his tweets.
Digging a hole
A legal theory Giuliani is pushing goes like this: If the money eventually came from Trump himself, it can’t be an illegal campaign violation. He didn’t help himself with this comment on “Fox & Friends” about how damaging Daniels’ story could have been to Trump’s campaign: “Imagine if that came out on Oct. 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton.”
With that as a motive, experts in campaign finance law told The Associated Press, the payment’s legality looks more dubious. The initial outlay by Cohen vastly exceeded the $2,700-per-election limit. If construed as a loan from Trump, the payment would have to be reported as such. It wasn’t.
Giuliani had yet another explanation for the payoff — concern for Melania. “It was to save their marriage — not their marriage, so much, but their reputation,” he said.
In other words, Daniels was paid $130,000 to protect the Trumps from a story of adultery that Trump calls fake.
But that’s not all ...
Giuliani was brought on as a legal fireman for Trump. Firestarter seemed more like it, as he made his media rounds.
On “Fox & Friends,” Giuliani said FBI Director James Comey was fired because he “would not, among other things, say that he [Trump] wasn’t a target” of the special counsel’s Russia investigation. That doesn’t seem like an argument to stop special counsel Robert Mueller from considering potential obstruction of justice.
He told The Washington Post that Cohen got more than the $130,000 from Trump. Among the reasons: “There probably were other things of a personal nature that Michael took care of.” Like what? Anyone curious?
He denounced last month’s FBI raids on Cohen’s office as sending “big storm troopers coming in and breaking down his apartment and breaking down his office.” Comparing New York FBI agents to Nazis is an odd move by a former Manhattan U.S. attorney.
Giuliani warned Mueller against going after Trump’s daughter Ivanka, a “fine woman.” Son-in-law Jared Kushner, being a man, is “disposable,” he said.
Ask no questions, get told no lies
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave it a try. Why, she was asked, did Trump tell reporters on Air Force One a month ago that he did not know anything about the payment to Daniels, or where Cohen got the money?
“This was information that the president didn’t know at the time, but eventually learned,” she said.
The problem with that story: Giuliani told The New York Times that Trump repaid Cohen last year, in monthly installments.
Sanders was asked about her own March 7 statements denying Trump’s role in the payment. It wasn’t a lie, Sanders said. “I have given the best information I had at the time,” she replied. “The first awareness I had was during the interview last night.” She wasn’t the only one blindsided — so were other top staffers and White House counsel Don McGahn.
Sanders wasn’t her typically feisty self. For the most part, she punted on questions, telling reporters to ask Trump’s “outside counsel.”
Janison: Missiles over Mueller
Almost two years ago, candidate Trump’s team removed a plank from the Republican national convention platform that called for arming Ukraine against aggression from Russia.
The move aligned nicely with Trump’s wooing of Vladimir Putin and his then-campaign manager Paul Manafort’s profitable work for a pro-Russian Ukrainian faction. The anti-Russian Ukrainian government was quite aware as it moved forward with its own investigations of Manafort.
But in 2018, there’s a new realpolitik amid Mueller’s Russia investigation. Ukraine is getting anti-tank missiles it wanted from the Trump administration. Ukrainian officials say they have “frozen” those investigations and aren’t interested in helping Mueller, who has charged Manafort with money-laundering and other crimes. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.
What else is happening
- Giuliani, freelancing on foreign affairs, said on “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning that North Korea would be “releasing three prisoners today.” While reports were encouraging on the American captives, there was no word of that happening as of Friday morning, Pyongyang time.
- Trump also hinted at an impending release, tweeting: “As everybody is aware, the past Administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail. Stay tuned!” As anyone who checked is aware, two of the prisoners were seized after Trump took office, not during Barack Obama’s administration.
- Politico profiled Emmet Flood, the former Bill Clinton impeachment lawyer Trump added to his legal team.
- Marking a National Day of Prayer in a Rose Garden ceremony, Trump announced an initiative to boost policies that recognize the “vital role” of religion in the country.
- A judge ruled that condo owners at Trump Place on Manhattan’s West Side have the right, if they choose by a two-thirds vote, to remove the Trump name from the property. The Trump Organization plans to appeal.
- Trump’s relationship with White House chief of staff John Kelly is at a cold truce, according to The New York Times. Trump complains that Kelly hides things from him; Kelly chafes at dressings-down from the president and sees his role as a buffer against recklessness.