Trump’s story on Stormy Daniels starts to fall apart

A new report suggests the Trump Organization was involved after all.

Michael Cohen in September 2016.  CREDIT: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Michael Cohen in September 2016. CREDIT: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

An email obtained by NBC News suggests the story President Donald Trump’s personal attorney told about an October 2016 hush payment to an adult film actress with whom Trump allegedly had an affair may not have been truthful.

In a statement provided to the Wall Street Journal last month, Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, confirmed that a $130,000 payment was made to Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford), but claimed it came from his personal funds and that Trump wasn’t involved.

“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” Cohen said, with the Journal adding that Cohen “declined to say why he would spend his own money to pay” Daniels.

But an email obtained by NBC suggests the money did not come from Cohen’s account. It also indicates that Cohen used his Trump Organization email account during his communications with the bank that handled the transaction to Daniels.

From NBC:

The email, dated Oct. 26, 2016, was sent to Cohen by an assistant to First Republic Bank senior managing director Gary Farro. The email appears to have been a reply to Cohen; the subject was “RE: First Republic Bank Transfer” and the message confirmed that “the funds have been deposited into your checking account.”

The email did not provide any more details about the accounts the money was transferred from or to, and it was not clear whether they were personal accounts or corporate accounts. It also did not specify the amount.

If Cohen really used his personal money to pay Daniels, it’s unclear why he’d need funds to be shifted from one account to another beforehand. Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, told NBC that the email “seriously calls into question the prior representation of Mr. Cohen and the White House relating to the source of the monies paid to Ms. Clifford in an effort to silence her… we smell smoke.”

As attorney Susan Simpson pointed out, Cohen’s story about the Daniels payment coming from his personal funds is further drawn into question by records of Trump campaign disbursements to Trump-owned properties that suspiciously match up with the hush payment.

Cohen’s claim about the origins of the money used to pay Daniels isn’t the only aspect of his story being questioned this week. His insistence that Trump wasn’t at all involved in the hush payment to Daniels was belied by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ comments on Wednesday, when she acknowledged to reporters that some sort of arbitration proceeding recently took place between the president and Daniels.

If Trump in fact won some sort of arbitration procedure against Daniels, that indicates there is some sort of agreement between Trump and Daniels, because if Trump was never involved with her, there would be nothing to arbitrate. So Sanders’ comments seemed to confirm Trump’s involvement in a hush payment made at a time when his treatment of women was a major national topic.

During a CNN interview on Friday morning, Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti claimed he’s able to prove that Trump knew about the payment.

“We’re going to prove that Mr. Cohen is not telling the truth about this,” he said. “We are going to be able to obtain discovery and documents and testimony that is going to show, I am highly confident, that at all times Trump knew exactly what was going on.”

As Paul Seamus Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at watchdog nonprofit Common Cause, told ThinkProgress, the question of where the money used to pay Daniels came from is more than academic.

“This was a big payment, $130,000 payment, to keep information away from voters that voters probably would have cared about when they were walking into the election booth back in November of 2016,” Ryan said. “We don’t know where this $130,000 came from… If it came from anyone other than Donald Trump himself, then it was an illegally large, or perhaps an illegal corporate, political contribution.”