President Trump, in an exclusive interview with Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt, insisted he only knew about hush-money payments made by Michael Cohen “later on” despite his ex-lawyer’s claims to the contrary, while maintaining they were not campaign funds.
“Later on I knew. Later on. What he did—and they weren’t taken out of the campaign finance, that’s the big thing. That’s a much bigger thing,” Trump said Wednesday. “Did they come out of the campaign? They didn’t come out of the campaign, they came from me.”
The president’s comments come after his former longtime personal attorney and self-described “fixer” entered a guilty plea with federal prosecutors on Tuesday, admitting to violating campaign finance laws by arranging hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal “at the direction” of then-candidate Trump.
The plea deal stated the payments were meant to influence the election — by covering up affair allegations — and the campaign was involved.
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“I don’t know if you know but I tweeted about the payments,” Trump said in the “Fox & Friends” interview, pushing back. “But they didn’t come out of the campaign. In fact, my first question when I heard about it was, did they come out of the campaign, because that could be a little dicey. And they didn’t come out of the campaign and that’s big.”
He added: “But they weren’t …. that’s not even a campaign violation.”
The president was referring to his May 3 tweets regarding his move to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 payment to Daniels.
“Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA,” Trump tweeted.
“Those agreements are very common among celebrities and people of wealth. In this case it is in full force and effect and will be used in Arbitration for damages against Ms. Clifford (Daniels). The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair,” Trump added, continuing, “…despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair. 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, in those tweets, was referring to a letter written and signed by Daniels in January, stating “with complete clarity” that allegations of an affair with Trump were “completely false.”
Despite admitting to knowing about the payments this week, and on Twitter in May, the president initially said he did not know about the $130,000 transaction.
In May, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani told Fox News that Trump “didn’t know the details of this until we knew the details of this,” adding that Trump thought it was to cover unspecified “expenses,” following the release of a financial disclosure.
Cohen, who also pleaded guilty to several charges of bank and tax fraud, initially said the money he paid to Daniels came out of his own pocket.
“If you look at President Obama, he had a massive campaign violation but he had a different attorney general and they viewed it a lot differently,” Trump said.
Trump was referring to Obama’s 2008 campaign being fined $375,000 by the Federal Election Commission for a series of missing notices for more than 1,300 contributions. They totaled $1.8 million.
But Lanny Davis, Cohen’s attorney, argued that there is little room for interpretation as to whether the president could be in legal trouble.
“There is no question that he’s committed a federal crime,” Davis said on “America’s Newsroom” Wednesday. He also argued that it’s never been settled whether a sitting president can be indicted, despite suggestions to the contrary from Trump allies.
At issue is the Daniels payment as well as the McDougal case, where she was paid $150,000 by the parent company of the National Enquirer for her story about an alleged 2006 affair with Trump, which it never published. Cohen admitted Tuesday to making an excessive campaign contribution and causing an unlawful corporate contribution.
After Cohen’s plea deal, Davis also initially said that Trump’s lawyers wrote a letter to Special Counsel Robert Mueller admitting Trump “directed” Cohen to make the payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
But Davis’ team corrected himself to CNN’s John Berman Wednesday, noting he was not talking about a letter to Mueller’s team, but rather the financial disclosure form filed by Trump in May.