For months, Michael Cohen — President Donald Trump’s personal attorney and soi disant “fixer” — has stuck with a consistent, if implausible, story about why he paid $130,000 in hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Cohen says that he paid Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket, without consulting Trump. He further insists that he did not make this payoff because the Daniels’ claims were true, but rather to protect Trump’s family. Finally, according to his story, the timing of the payment, just days before the election, was entirely coincidental — Cohen would have paid it at any time, he says.
This was the statement Cohen released in February:
In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford. I do not plan to provide any further comment on the FEC matter or regarding Ms. Clifford. Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you harm or damage. I will always protect Mr. Trump.
On March 29, in an appearance on Megyn Kelly, Michael Cohen’s lawyer David Schwartz added an important detail to this narrative. Schwartz adamantly maintained that Trump never reimbursed Cohen for the payment.
On April 5, whilst traveling aboard Air Force One, Trump was asked if he knew anything about the payment. He said no, he did not.
Four days later, on April 9, Michael Cohen’s home, hotel room, and office were raided by the FBI. Among the information sought were records related to the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. (The records are currently being examined by a special master appointed by a federal judge to screen for documents protected by attorney-client privilege.)
Significantly, in order to obtain the records in this fashion, the FBI would have had to establish that there was probable cause to believe that they contained evidence of a crime. But one way or another, the authorities would know the real story about the Stormy Daniels payment, it’s purpose, and Trump’s involvement.
That changed everything.
Trump immediately began distancing himself from Cohen, describing him as “a businessman for his own account” and suggesting that if he testified against Trump, he would be just making things up.
….it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2018
Trump also shook up his legal team — yet again — installing Rudy Giuliani as his lead attorney. Giuliani was ostensibly brought on board to help the president manage the Russia investigation, but on May 2, in his first major media appearance on Sean Hannity’s eponymous Fox News show, he immediately started talking about Stormy Daniels.
It was during that appearance that Giuliani revealed, for the first time, that Trump had reimbursed Cohen for the payment in installments over the course of 2017. This directly contradicted what Cohen’s lawyer said in March.
The next morning, Giuliani appeared on Fox & Friends and said that Cohen had done “his job.” “Imagine if that came out of October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton,” said Giuliani, “Cohen made it go away.”
Giuliani’s story also suggested, of course, that Trump had long known about the payment and its purpose. But Giuliani concocted another story, to try to explain the discrepancy. He said he informed Trump about the payments just a few days ago:
Giuliani said he made @realDonaldTrump aware of paperwork that showed payments were actually reimbursements for Stormy. Trump replied: ‘Oh my goodness, I guess that's what it was for,’” Giuliani said.
— Kristen Welker (@kwelkernbc) May 4, 2018
That statement remained operative for only a few hours. Trump appeared in front of reporters on the morning of May 4 and announced that Giuliani didn’t know what he was talking about and would issue a statement soon.
A few hours later Giuliani issued a statement in which he said his comments “were not describing my understanding of the president’s knowledge.”
— ABC News (@ABC) May 4, 2018
Of course, that’s exactly what Giuliani was doing. But he is essentially trying to withdraw all his comments from the previous 48 hours.
What neither Giuliani nor Trump has clarified is what Trump knew and when he knew it. The old lies have been replaced by nothing.
Trump finds himself in a bind. Since the raid, lies are no longer an option. And the truth appears to be far too damaging to admit.