Trump acknowledges he repaid personal lawyer for Stormy Daniels hush money

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump acknowledged Thursday he repaid his personal lawyer for hush money given to porn actress Stormy Daniels after claiming previously he didn’t know about the payments. But the money, paid just before the 2016 election to stifle her claims of an affair, “had nothing to do with the campaign,” the president tweeted.

Trump said his attorney Michael Cohen received a monthly retainer, which he used to pay the actress to sign an agreement not to talk about her allegations and thus “stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair.”

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. These agreements are…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2018

…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,……

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2018

…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 in this transaction.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2018

Trump’s tweets outlining the arrangement came after Rudy Giuliani, one of his attorneys, said Wednesday that Trump reimbursed Cohen for $130,000 paid to Daniels. During an appearance on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity,” Giuliani said the money to repay Cohen had been “funneled … through the law firm and the president repaid it.”

Asked if Trump knew about the arrangement, Giuliani said: “He didn’t know about the specifics of it, as far as I know. 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.”

Speaking on “Fox and Friends” Thursday, Giuliani said Trump didn’t know all the details until “maybe 10 days ago.” While stressing that Trump denies the relationship, he said Cohen may have seen $130,000 as “cheap.”

“They said it wasn’t true,” Giuliani said. “However, imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton. Cohen didn’t even ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.”

The comments appeared to contradict statements made by Trump several weeks ago, when he said he didn’t know about the payment to Daniels. Giuliani later suggested to The Wall Street Journal that while Trump had repaid the $130,000, Cohen had settled the payment to Daniels without Trump’s knowledge at the time.

Giuliani’s revelation was hardly a shock in the West Wing, where many aides assumed the president at least had knowledge of Cohen’s work on his behalf. In briefings and media appearances, however, White House aides have sought to avoid staking out a clear position on the matter, directing reporters to Trump’s own comments. Still, the way Giuliani announced it — on live television and imprecisely — surprised Trump staffers and raised fresh worries about the president’s uneven legal team.

Law firms advance expenses for clients as a matter of course, so there’s nothing inherently improper about a lawyer covering a particular payment and then being reimbursed for it. In this case, though, the client who apparently reimbursed the expense was running for president and the money was paid just days before the election. That raises questions about whether Cohen’s law practice was functioning as a vendor for the campaign and the expense was therefore an unreported campaign expenditure. If so, that could be legally problematic.

Asked aboard Air Force One last month whether he knew about the payment, Trump said flatly: “No.” Trump also said he didn’t know why Cohen had made the payment or where he got the money.

In a phone interview with “Fox and Friends” last week, however, Trump appeared to muddy the waters, saying that Cohen represented him in the “crazy Stormy Daniels deal.”

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The White House referred questions to the president’s personal legal team.

Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and ex-U.S. attorney who joined Trump’s legal team last month, said the president had repaid Cohen over several months, indicating the payments continued through at least the presidential transition, if not into his presidency. He also said the payment “is going to turn out to be perfectly legal” because “that money was not campaign money.”

No debt to Cohen is listed on Trump’s personal financial disclosure form, which was certified on June 16, 2017.

Giuliani also described the payment to Daniels as “a very regular thing for lawyers to do.”

Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, called the comment “a stunning revelation.”

“Mr. Trump evidently has participated in a felony and there must be serious consequences for his conduct and his lies and deception to the American people,” he said.

Giuliani made the statements to Fox host Sean Hannity, who has his own connection to the case. It was recently revealed in court that Hannity is one of Cohen’s clients. Hannity has described his personal dealings with Cohen as centered on real estate advice and said that it “never rose to any level that I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions.”

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