I started to call this post the “rich man’s burden.” Perfectly innocent rich men, you see, are just perpetually having to pay large amounts of money toÂ women of ill repute. It goes with the territory. Anna North wrote at Vox,
If anyone in America still needed an explanation of how rich people use their money to silence others,Â President Donald TrumpÂ has you covered.
In a series of tweets Thursday morning, he laid out the process by which â€œcelebrities and people of wealthâ€ like himself useÂ nondisclosure agreementsÂ to keep people from talking about them in public. Trump specifically explained that he reimbursed his lawyer, Michael Cohen, for payingÂ porn actress Stormy DanielsÂ $130,000 for her silence.
I believe Trump is still claiming he didn’t have sex with that woman (he changes his story so much it’s hard to keep track), which makes me wonder why more women don’t get on this gravy train. All you have to do to get $130,000 is threaten to tell the world that you’ve had sex with Mr. Bigbucks! Easiest scam in the world! It must happen all the time!
Of course, the flip side to NDAs is that they perpetuate a system by which the very wealthy can get away with anything by buying their victims’ silence. I think NDAs should be done away with, except perhaps in regard to legitimate proprietary business information.
Conor Friedersdorf compiled a list of Trump’s changing stories about the $130,000 payment.
And that brings us to Wednesday night. Now, Rudy Giuliani says that Trump repaid the $130,000 to Michael Cohen. The lawyer didnâ€™t use his own money after all. The new story produced a remarkable followup segment on Fox News, in which Laura Ingraham grudgingly implied that Trump and his allies have proven themselves to be liars by blatantly contradicting themselvesâ€”then quickly softened that heretical conclusion by reframing it as though the important thing is what the left will say, not the actual truth of the matter.
At about the 1:26 mark, Ingraham speculates, â€œWell did Trump pay it after April 6?â€ It would be odd to wait that long to reimburse oneâ€™s lawyer for a six-figure expense, but that would allow Trump to claim he wasnâ€™t lying on Air Force One. What Ingraham could not have known then is that after the Hannity interview, Giuliani gave an interview to Robert Costa ofÂ TheÂ Washington Post.
What Guiliani told Costa is that the reimbursement was over a period of time, in monthly payments ofÂ â€œ$35,000. Which means the reimbursement began long before April. (Trump’s tweets today suggested that the $35,000 a month was merely a legal retainer, which must have been a sweet deal for Cohen, considering he does very little legal work.)
It probably didn’t occur to Giuliani that he was throwing the Fox News crew under the bus along with Trump. But no statement coming out of the White House can ever be trusted. Something that’s a “disgusting” rumor and “fake news” one day turns out to be true the next day. This happens a lot.
The problem, as I understand it, is that Giuliani seemed to believe that if Trump paid the $130,000 out of his own pocket, he’s off the hook for campaign finance violations. However, all kinds of commentary today says that if the $130,000 was paid in connection to the campaign in any way, and not reported, it’s still a campaign finance violation.
On Thursday morning, Trump tweeted that Cohen â€œreceived a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign â€¦ used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair.â€
â€œMoney from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll [sic] in this transaction,â€ the president insisted.
But Giuliani quickly contradicted that explanation in an interview withÂ Fox and FriendsÂ Thursday morning, indicating that the payment to Daniels was meant to prevent damaging information from emerging in the latter days of the 2016 campaign. â€œImagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton,â€ Giuliani said. â€œCohen didnâ€™t even ask. He made it go away. He did his job.â€
That statement, legal experts said, appears to confirm that the payment was a campaign expenditure. â€œThis is good circumstantial evidence this was campaign-related,â€ said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. â€œGiuliani did Trump no favors.â€
Jonathan Turley asks, “Is Rudy Giuliani working FOR Donald Trump or AGAINST him?” See also Josh Marshall, “Rudes in Twillight.”
My best guess is that Guiliani and Trump and other members of the legal team had discussed this story (true or not) as a way to escape a claimed FEC violation. They did so with what appears to have been a fairly limited understanding of campaign finance law. But they thought it was a good idea. Giuliani then meandered his way into floating it during his interview with Sean Hannity. Note how he immediately fixes on the point that this solves the campaign finance problem (even though it appears not to). Heâ€™s adamant and cocky about it. He is then caught off guard when Hannity â€“ himself caught off guard and scrambling in response to the initial claim â€“ reminds him that the story is that Trump never knew anything about the Daniels deal at all and did not know where the money was from.
Later in the interview and nowÂ this morningÂ he has groped his way to a new hybrid story which is that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the payment without ever knowing that the payment had been made, who it had been made to or how much it was for. With sufficient grease and spit and oblong pieces of cardboard, Rudy is halfway able to make this make sense. But by any real measure, it makes no sense. …
…Â What you have are a half dozen brainstorms cooked up by a group of old men in a room used to bending reality to their purposes when something goes wrong. Thatâ€™s much more difficult on a national stage in front of intense scrutiny. Thatâ€™s what happened last night. Rudy Giuliani is far, far past his prime, used to the accommodating hothouse world of Fox News cronies and cash and carry deal-making in his law firm gigs. This was as sloppy as it looked and did his client no favors.
In other news: NBC reports that the feds had tapped Michael Cohen’s phones. We don’t know when the tap started, but it was before the raids on his home(s) and office(s). At least one call between Cohen and the White House was intercepted.