Giuliani: Trump reimbursed Cohen for $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) said Wednesday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpConservatives express concern over House GOP immigration bill Poll: McSally holds 14-point lead in Arizona GOP Senate primary Trump defends Nielsen amid criticism over family separations MORE reimbursed his personal attorney Michael Cohen the $130,000 paid to adult-film star Stormy Daniels to stay quiet about their alleged affair.

The comments by Giuliani, who recently joined Trump’s legal team, contradicted a previous statement by the president, who has said he did not know about the payment. 

Asked about whether he knew about the Cohen payment last month by reporters on Air Force One, Trump replied "no" and "I don't know."

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Giuliani made his startling statements to Fox News’s Sean Hannity. Expounding on his comments in a series of interviews, he said Trump had repaid Cohen over a series of months, and that the repayments were to ensure there was no campaign finance violation.

He told Hannity the payment was “perfectly legal” and said it was “not campaign money,” meaning the arrangement didn’t violate campaign finance law.

“It's not campaign money. No campaign finance violation. They funneled through a law firm and the president repaid it,” Giuliani said.

Giuliani also cast the payment as a normal aspect of the way Trump interacted with Cohen, suggesting it was typical for the president to repay his lawyer for expenses that he incurred. 

He also said that Trump did not know about the specifics of the $130,000 expense.

"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," he said.

When Hannity returned to the payment later in the interview, Giuliani clarified its nature.

“That was money that was paid by his lawyer, the way I would do, out of his law firm funds or whatever funds, it doesn’t matter. The president reimbursed that over a period of several months,” Giuliani said.

Trump on Thursday morning also defended the payment as a nondisclosure agreement that was "common among celebrities and people of wealth." He said none of the money came from his campaign, and did not acknowledge his earlier statement about not knowing that the payment had been made.

"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 very common among celebrities and people of wealth," Trump tweeted.

He accused Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, of extortion, denying there had been an affair.

"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, despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair," he said. "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."

 

Later, in an interview with The Washington Post, Giuliani said the repayments to Cohen mostly took place in 2017, though he allowed that there could have been a payment in 2018.

“The president was always going to make sure he got it back, and enough money to pay the taxes,” Giuliani told the Post. “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 ... and that was paid back out of the rest of the money, and Michael earned a fee out of it.”

Trump's role in the $130,000 payment, made just a few weeks before Election Day in 2016, raises new questions about potential violations of campaign finance law.

If the payment from Cohen was made to help Trump win the White House, experts say, the expenditure should have been reported by the campaign as a loan. The FBI likely seized documents related to the payment to Daniels when they raided Cohen's home, office and hotel room, that could show whether the payment was personal or related to the campaign.

Giuliani's remarks are almost certain to create a political storm on Capitol Hill, given the earlier comments from Trump that he did not know about the payments to Cohen. 

Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Daniels, in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Thursday, called it a "disgrace."

"Mr. President, you and your advisers and your lawyers need to bring it. Bring it," he said. "Because you continue to lie to the American people and we are not going to tolerate it. Not today, not tonight and any other day. This is an absolute disgrace, what has been going on here over the last few months."

Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, is suing Trump over the nondisclosure agreement she signed in exchange for the $130,000 payment, claiming the deal is void because Trump never signed the document.

She is also suing Cohen for defamation for suggesting that she lied about her alleged affair with Trump. Cohen is asserting his Fifth Amendment rights in the case.

FBI agents raided Cohen's office last month, reportedly searching for records related to the payment to Daniels, among other things.

Giuliani's remarks also appeared to contradict comments Cohen made taking responsibility for the payment, a point Hannity pressed on Wednesday night, saying he “distinctly” remembered that Cohen said he had made the payment on his own without discussing it with Trump.

“I don’t know, I haven’t investigated that. No reason to dispute that, no reason to dispute his recollection,” Giuliani replied.

“The fact is — just trust me, they’re going to come up with no violation there,” he said. “The payment was perfectly legal, all documented."

Cohen has said that he made the payment, but that it was made with money out of his own pocket.

Trump admitted that Cohen had represented him in the arrangement with Daniels during an interview with "Fox & Friends," but that he didn't know about the payment.

In another portion of the interview, Giuliani appeared to shift Trump's explanation for the firing of James ComeyJames Brien ComeyGiuliani: FBI asked me about tease of a 'surprise' before election Republicans tear into IG finding on Clinton probe FBI agent Peter Strzok escorted from building amid internal review MORE as FBI director.

While the memo justifying Comey's firing blamed his handling of the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonLewandowski says 'womp womp' at story of young girl being separated from mother at border Giuliani: FBI asked me about tease of a 'surprise' before election Republicans tear into IG finding on Clinton probe MORE email investigation, Giuliani said Trump actually dismissed the FBI director because he wouldn't say publicly that he wasn't under investigation.

"He fired Comey because Comey would not — among other things — say that he wasn't a target of the investigation," Giuliani said.

"He fired him and he said, 'I'm free of this guy.'"

The statement is sure to be of interest to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE, who has been investigating Trump for potential obstruction of justice.

--Updated on May 3 at 7:45 a.m.