President Donald Trump knew about Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to keep porn actress Stormy Daniels quiet about their alleged affair months before telling reporters he knew nothing about it in April, according to a report from the New York Times. Trump and the White House have repeatedly changed their stories on what happened; this week, Rudy Giuliani said Trump had repaid Cohen for the hush money — a new revelation.
According to the Times report on Friday, it’s not clear exactly when Trump learned of the payment, which Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, made in October 2016. But he knew of it months before April, when he — if the Times’ reporting is right — lied to reporters aboard Air Force One, saying he had no knowledge of the payment. “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen is my attorney,” Trump said when asked Why Cohen had made the payment. “You’ll have to ask Michael.” Per the Times, Trump knew that Cohen had “succeeded” in keeping Daniels’ allegations from becoming public.
Daniels, whose name is Stephanie Clifford, alleges she had an affair with Trump in 2006. Cohen paid her $130,000 ahead of the 2016 election to keep her from speaking publicly about it. The Wall Street Journal reported the payout in January, after which Daniels and Trump’s representatives have been involved in a legal tug-of-war over her ability to speak publicly about her alleged relationship with the president. Daniels signed a nondisclosure agreement along with the payout, which she says now is invalid because Trump himself didn’t sign it. The battle is currently playing out in court.
Trump’s story on Stormy keeps changing, and Giuliani really isn’t helping.
Since the Daniels payout became public in January, Trump and his aides have offered up varying accounts of what happened and what the president knew and when.
Vox’s Jen Kirby recently laid out a timeline of how the situation has evolved, from Cohen in February telling the Times he paid Daniels with his own money, to Giuliani this week telling Sean Hannity that Trump had reimbursed Cohen. The former New York City mayor told the Times this week Trump repaid Cohen in installments of $35,000 a month through his “personal family account,” amounting to $460,000 or $470,000 total.
That also ties Trump’s business, the Trump Organization, to the broader federal investigation into Cohen, whose office and home the FBI raided in April. Per the Times:
Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, has known since last year the details of how Mr. Cohen was being reimbursed, which was mainly through payments of $35,000 per month from the trust that contains the president’s personal fortune, according to two people with knowledge of the arrangement.
One person close to the Trump Organization said people with the company were aware that Mr. Cohen was still doing “legal work” for the president in 2017, but another person familiar with the situation said that Mr. Weisselberg did not know that Mr. Cohen had paid Ms. Clifford when the retainer agreement was struck and when the payments went through.
Mr. Weisselberg’s knowledge of the retainer agreement could draw Mr. Trump’s company deeper into the federal investigation of Mr. Cohen’s activities, increasing the president’s legal exposure in a wide-ranging case involving the lawyer often described as the president’s “fixer” in New York City.
Trump and Giuliani have tried to walk back Giuliani’s comments this week. The former mayor released a written statement to “clarify” his remarks, saying that his “references to timing were not describing of the president’s knowledge.” Trump told reporters on Friday that Giuliani was just getting started in his job and would soon “get his facts straight.”
But as more revelations come out about the Stormy Daniels matter, getting the facts straight is only going to be harder for the White House. When asked about Giuliani’s comments on Thursday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who in March said the president had “no knowledge of any payments,” said it’s something she’d rather not talk about. “I can’t get into the details of the ongoing litigation,” she said. “I’d refer you back to the president’s outside counsel.”