By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: May 3, 2018 ~
What Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and Donald Trump’s latest legal fixer did last night was to effectively tell Trump’s mortal enemy, the Washington Post, that Trump paid his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, a $420,000 slush fund last year to clean up dirt on the President. Cohen is the target of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York. Cohen’s home, office, hotel room and safety deposit box were raided by the FBI on April 9.
In an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News last evening, and then later with the Washington Post, Giuliani buried both himself and the President deeper into a web of half truths or outright lies while managing to taint the legal work he does at his law firm, Greenberg Traurig, a corporate law behemoth with 2,000 lawyers in 38 offices on three continents.
By the end of the evening one thing was clear – Giuliani had concocted such a shifting, nebulous alibi for Trump that it didn’t even hold up to a few hours of media scrutiny let alone a future interview with a Federal prosecutor.
The explosive social media controversy that ensued over the Giuliani interviews centered on the fact that on April 5 the President had stated flatly “no” when asked if he was aware of the $130,000 payment that Michael Cohen had made to porn star Stormy Daniels as hush money over her allegations that she and Trump had had a sexual relationship. A reporter also asked Trump “do you know where he got that money to make that payment.” Trump responded, “No, I don’t know.” Trump’s April 5 statement was made to reporters aboard Air Force One and widely carried on cable news programs. Cohen has admitted to making the payment in the days leading up to the presidential election of 2016.
The payment has important legal jeopardy ramifications for both Cohen and Trump. A hush money payment just days before his presidential election can be viewed under campaign finance law as a payment to protect his campaign from political damage. Under federal campaign finance law, any expenditures by a candidate or someone working on behalf of a candidate must be reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). No such filing has been made.
In a complaint filed in January by Common Cause with the FEC and the Department of Justice, the organization charges that the failure to report this expenditure to the FEC violates not only campaign finance law but also violates federal law prohibiting false statements of material fact to the Federal government.
Giuliani’s efforts last evening to unsnarl Trump from this mess only seemed to compound the mess. Regarding the $130,000 payment to Daniels, the exchange went as follows on the Sean Hannity program on Fox News:
Giuliani: They funneled through a law firm, and the president repaid it.
Hannity: Oh. I didn’t know that. He did.
Then, potentially impairing his daytime job at Greenberg Traurig, Giuliani volunteered this to Hannity:
“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.”
Giuliani’s assertion that “things like this” are a routine matter for an attorney to handle is preposterous on its face. This was a tightly contested presidential race and Cohen’s client was the Republican candidate for the highest office in the land. That candidate already had a string of women charging him with sexual misconduct and this was a porn star alleging a sexual affair while Trump was married. For Giuliani to suggest that a lawyer could make a hush money payment in a situation like this without the authorization or awareness of his client is absurd.
Giuliani’s position became more absurd in a subsequent interview with the Washington Post’s Robert Costa. The Post published the transcript of the interview on its website. A portion of the interview follows:
Costa: When was the president told about these payments?
Giuliani: He wasn’t since it was somewhere between 10 and five days before the election. And he wasn’t told. But even if he was told, he wouldn’t have remembered it, like I wouldn’t have remembered it. When, when he paid out of his own personal funds — and if you listen to Cohen’s statement, it was very careful, he said, ‘I wasn’t paid from the campaign and I wasn’t paid from the Trump Organization.’ Absolutely true. He was paid by Donald Trump’s personal funds. And he was paid out of personal funds, which covered that, and possibly a few other things that, you know, would be considered incidental. This is not the kind of money that you would absolutely think of as the settlement of some kind of substantial case. It’d be more the kind of money that you’d think of to be used to pay for a harassment case, which is the way they always thought of this. They never thought of it as true. And I don’t think it’s true. And I’m absolutely positive it’s not true.
Later in the interview, Costa attempted to nail down the timeline:
Costa: When, specifically, were the payments made?
Giuliani: Well, the original payment from Cohen was sometime right before the election. The repayments took place over a period of time, probably in 2017, probably all paid back by the end of 2017. That and probably a few other situations that might have been considered campaign expenses.
Finally, Costa asks for more details on the structure of the payment reimbursement from the man who by this time is President of the United States:
Costa: How many payments did it take for the president to settle up with Cohen?
Giuliani: Do the arithmetic, right? $35,000 a month, probably starting in January or February. By the time you get to $250,000, it’s all paid off. Remember, he also paid for the taxes. Then there probably were other things of a personal nature that Michael took care of, for which the president would have always trusted him as his lawyer, as my clients do with me. And that was paid back out of the rest of the money. And Michael earned a fee out of it.
If you multiply $35,000 times 12 months you arrive at a $420,000 slush fund that Giuliani suggests was used to handle “things of a personal nature that Michael took care of….” Michael being the lawyer who less than a month ago was the subject of a massive FBI raid. Among the documents seized may well be more concrete details on those “things of a personal nature” that Cohen was doing for Trump.
And there’s one more key point. Donald Trump took the oath of office as President of the United States on January 20, 2017. According to Giuliani, the $35,000 a month payments to Cohen, which included reimbursement of the $130,000 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels, occurred while the President was occupying the Oval Office.