President Trump confirmed in a series of tweets Thursday morning that he repaid his longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen for the hush money he delivered to porn actress Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election.
His confession came the morning after the reveal by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s new outside attorney, that Trump had paid back Cohen for the Daniels money. Giuliani insisted the money wasn’t related to the campaign, but his statement only raised more questions — and directly contradicted the past statements of Trump and his associates.
Trump is already trying to walk back Giuliani’s comments, the latest in a series of shifting stories from Trumpworld to explain away the Stormy Daniels saga since the Wall Street Journal first reported in January that Cohen arranged to pay Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford) $130,000 for her silence about an alleged 2006 affair with Trump.
The only thing Trump has continued to deny is the affair itself. The rest of the narrative continues to shift. Here’s a brief recap:
January 12, 2018: The Wall Street Journal reports that Cohen arranged a $130,000 payment to Daniels to stay silent about the alleged affair.
Cohen told the Wall Street Journal that “president Trump once again vehemently denies any such occurrence as has Ms. Daniels,” adding that “this is now the second time that you are raising outlandish allegations against my client. You have attempted to perpetuate this false narrative for over a year; a narrative that has been consistently denied by all parties since at least 2011.”
A White House official denied the affair, calling them “old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election.” The official did not comment on the existence of a nondisclosure agreement or any payment to Daniels.
February 13, 2018: Cohen tells the New York Times he paid Daniels with his own money.
Cohen called the settlement with Daniels a “private transaction” and dismissed the idea that he had violated campaign finance laws by facilitating the payment to Daniels to stop her from revealing a damaging story ahead of the election. “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” Cohen said in a statement to the Times. “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.” Cohen declined to say whether Trump was aware of the payment to Daniels.
March 7, 2018: The White House denied the Daniels allegation after she filed a lawsuit claiming the NDA was void because Trump himself never signed it.
“This case had been won already in arbitration, and there was no knowledge of any payments from the president, and he has denied all these allegations,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a White House press briefing. Her claim that the case had been “won already in arbitration” made little sense, as it had not; she directed all other questions to Cohen.
March 9, 2018: Cohen reiterates that he paid Daniels with his own money, and says his use of a Trump Organization email account wasn’t a big deal.
Cohen told ABC News that the money he used to pay Daniels was taken from his home equity line and transferred to his LLC account. He added that as for the Trump Organization emails, he just uses that account all the time — whether it’s to communicate with friends or to funnel secret hush money payments. “I sent emails from the Trump Org email address to my family, friends as well as Trump business emails,” Cohen said. “I basically used it for everything. I am certain most people can relate.”
March 26, 2018: Trump offers a cryptic Twitter response the morning after Daniels talks to 60 Minutes’ Anderson Cooper in a primetime interview, in which she detailed the alleged affair and said she was threatened by a Trump associate in 2011.
“So much Fake News,” Trump tweets Monday after the interview. “Never been more voluminous or more inaccurate.”
So much Fake News. Never been more voluminous or more inaccurate. But through it all, our country is doing great!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 26, 2018
April 5, 2018: Trump denies knowing anything about the Daniels payment on Air Force One.
Trump made his first public statement about the hush money payment to Daniels — and denied knowing anything about the settlement:
Trump replied “no” when asked if he had had knowledge about the payment to Daniels. A reporter then asked if he knew why Cohen made the payment.
“You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen is my attorney,” Trump said, according to the pool report. “You’ll have to ask Michael.”
Trump also denied knowing where the money to pay Daniels came from and ignored another question on whether he had ever set up a fund that Cohen could use to make such a payment.
April 18, 2018: Trump makes fun of a composite sketch created of the man Daniels said threatened her in 2011 to stay silent about her alleged affair with Trump. (Daniels recently sued for defamation over this tweet.)
Trump referred to Daniels’s claim as a “total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools,” in a tweet.
A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)! https://t.co/9Is7mHBFda— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2018
April 26, 2018: Trump admits to the Fox & Friends hosts that Cohen represents him in the Daniels case.
“He represented me with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal,” Trump said. “He did absolutely nothing wrong.” The president added, “from what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong. There was no campaign funds going into this, which would have been a problem.”
"He's a good guy."@POTUS weighs in on Michael Cohen on @foxandfriends pic.twitter.com/27Slz5orlr— Fox News (@FoxNews) April 26, 2018
May 2, 2018: Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s new outside attorney, tells Fox’s Sean Hannity that Trump repaid Cohen for the Daniels hush money.
Giuliani told Hannity that the money wasn’t campaign money, and that the payment to Daniels was “funneled through a law firm, and then the president repaid it.”
Here's the moment Rudy Giuliani told Sean Hannity that "they funneled the [$130,000] through a law firm, and the president repaid it.” pic.twitter.com/XWGKE77Ysq— Caroline O. (@RVAwonk) May 3, 2018
May 3, 2018: Trump confirms in a series of carefully calibrated tweets that he repaid Cohen for the Daniels settlement.
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
May 3, 2018: The White House refers questions back to Giuliani.
Sanders, the White House press secretary, directed most questions about Daniels back to Giuliani. She did tell reporters that Trump had denied knowing about the payment to Daniels last month because he didn’t know the information at the time “but eventually learned.”
.@ZekeJMiller on Stormy Daniels payment: "Why the president was not truthful with the American people and with the people in this room?"@PressSec: "This was information that the president didn't know at the time, but eventually learned." https://t.co/bKj6YR7zzK pic.twitter.com/NZVKHBWuON— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 3, 2018
She didn’t say when that was, and referred reporters back to Giuliani’s comments. Giuliani told the Washington Post in an interview that, according to his understanding, Trump reimbursed Cohen in 2017 and possibly 2018 — well before the Air Force One comments.
Huckabee Sanders mostly deflected questions, referring reporters back to Giuliani’s comments. She told reporters that she had had not previously known Trump had repaid Cohen: “The first awareness I had was during the interview last night.”
May 4, 2018: Trump: Giuliani will “get his facts straight.”
On Friday, the president tried to do some damage control on his way to the NRA conference in Dallas. Trump indicated that Giuliani spoke inaccurately. “He started yesterday,” Trump said. “He’ll get his facts straight. He’s a great guy.”
Giuliani joined Trump’s outside legal team about two weeks ago. At Joint Base Andrews, Trump again suggested Giuliani had gotten his information wrong. “He wasn’t totally familiar with everything,” Trump said, “And Rudy — we love Rudy, he’s a special guy — what he really understand that this is a witch hunt. But Rudy, understands this better than anybody, he just started yesterday, so that’s it.”
“Rudy [Giuliani], we love Rudy, he’s a special guy — what he really understands is that this is a witch hunt,” President Trump tells reporters at Joint Base Andrews https://t.co/JseDI9SPqQ pic.twitter.com/LlhZy86ck9— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 4, 2018
Giuliani later issued a new statement intended clarify his remarks. “There is no campaign violation,” Giuliani said. “The payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the President’s family. It would have been done in any event, whether he was a candidate or not.”
He added: “My references to the timing were not describing my understanding of the President’s knowledge, but instead, my understanding of these matters.”