Giuliani was brought on to Trump’s legal team for one crucial purpose: To defend the president on cable news. On Wednesday evening he sat down for a softball interview with Sean Hannity, and he ended up confirming that Donald Trump knew about Michael Cohen’s $130,000 hush-money payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
The White House previously had a consistent line on Clifford: If Cohen paid her to sign a non-disclosure agreement about her alleged affair with the president, the president did not know about it. Now Giuliani has confirmed that Trump not only knew about it, but paid Cohen back.
So what was Giuliani thinking? Cohen had previously claimed that he had taken out a home loan to pay Clifford. This was a significant detail: It raised the possibility that Cohen had been reimbursed with campaign money, a violation of federal law.
It’s this claim that Giuliani seemed so intent on debunking, saying, “Paying some Stormy Daniels woman one hundred and thirty thousand is going to turn out to be perfectly legal. That money was not campaign money. Sorry I’m giving you a fact now that you don’t know. It’s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation.”
But that nugget of information also made it clear that Trump had been knowingly misleading the public about his supposed ignorance of the payment. It also is still a likely violation of campaign finance law, since Trump would have had to disclose a loan from Cohen that was used for election-related purposes—namely, to keep Clifford quiet in the run-up to the election.
Trump took to Twitter on Thursday morning to back up Giuliani:
This raises more questions than it answers. While Giuliani seems intent on quashing the campaign finance angle, the payment that was “funneled through” Cohen’s law firm was also shady. We now know that Trump reimbursed Cohen, which had always seemed like the most plausible explanation. But why lie about it? And why pay off someone over something that didn’t happen?