WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump acknowledged Thursday repaying the $130,000 that was expended on his behalf days before the 2016 election to silence Stormy Daniels, but said that “money from the campaign, or campaign contributions” were not used in the arrangement.
Trump has steadily denied having any knowledge of the payment to Daniels, which was made by his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. But the president changed course on Thursday, revealing on Twitter that he paid Cohen via “a monthly retainer” that had covered the cost of payment to Daniels.
The president denies Daniels’ allegations of a secret tryst in 2006 but defended the payment to the adult film actress, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford. Trump called the nondisclosure agreement she signed “very common among celebrities and people of wealth.”
“The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair, despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair,” Trump tweeted. “Prior to its violation by Ms. Clifford and her attorney, this was a private agreement. Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll [sic] in this transaction.”
Trump continued his explanation on Twitter, saying that the contract Cohen signed with Daniels “is in full force and effect and will be used in Arbitration for damages against Ms. Clifford (Daniels).” Daniels is suing in civil court to invalidate the agreement, arguing that it is nonbinding because Trump never signed the document.
The tweets came the morning after the president’s new personal attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, disclosed for the first time in a Wednesday evening interview with Fox News that Trump had reimbursed Cohen with money “funneled through a law firm.”
Giuliani, in a follow-up interview with The Washington Post on Thursday, said that though Trump had repaid Cohen, he had been unaware of Cohen’s arrangement with Daniels’ until “about two weeks ago.”
Cohen, a Long Island native, said earlier this year that he had paid Daniels out of his own pocket, without notifying Trump.
Appearing on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning, Giuliani said Cohen had been acting independently, probably to save Trump from the fallout of another scandal so close to Election Day.
“Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton,” Giuliani said of Daniels’ allegations. “Cohen didn’t even ask. Cohen made it go away. He didn’t even ask.”
Earlier this year, Common Cause, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, filed complaints with the Federal Elections Commission and the Department of Justice against Cohen and Trump, saying that the deal with Daniels appeared to violate campaign finance laws. The group asserts that Cohen’s payment to Daniels was meant to influence the outcome of the election and should be considered an in-kind contribution to Trump’s campaign. Such a contribution was never listed in Trump’s campaign finance records, and even if it had been, the $130,000 payment would have far exceeded the federal government’s $2,700 individual contribution limit.
Giuliani pushed back on the notion that any campaign finance laws were broken, telling the Post: “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.”
Last month, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump said he had no knowledge of the payment to Daniels.
Asked about that statement in light of Trump’s admission that he reimbursed Cohen, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Thursday: “This was information that the president didn’t know at the time, but eventually learned.”
Sanders, who has repeatedly refused to answer questions about the Cohen payment, said at Thursday’s daily press briefing that the first she heard of the reimbursement was during Giuliani’s Wednesday night interview on Fox News.
Trump, who addressed more than 200 faith-based leaders at a White House ceremony marking National Prayer Day on Thursday, did not answer questions shouted by reporters about his payment to Cohen.
At the ceremony, Trump signed an executive order creating the “White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative,” which will establish a panel of religious advisers to provide policy recommendations to the president.
Trump’s new initiative will revive similar efforts made by former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Part of the panel’s mandate will be to “provide recommendations on programs and policies where faith-based and community organizations may partner and/or deliver more effective solutions to poverty,” according to a summary of the initiative provided by the White House.