During Wednesday’s press briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stuck to a limited set of talking points regarding Michael Cohen’s guilty plea Tuesday that implicated President Trump in campaign finance violations. She repeatedly insisted that Trump simply did nothing wrong and that there are “no charges against him.”
When asked if Trump lied about the hush money payments to women he’d had affairs with, Sanders called it a “ridiculous accusation.”
Contrary to Sanders’ admonishment, Trump’s narrative is very much in doubt.
Back in April, Trump said in an interview on Air Force Once that he had no knowledge of the $130,000 payment that Cohen — his personal lawyer — made to Stormy Daniels and that he also didn’t know where Cohen had gotten that money. But in his plea agreement, Cohen stated under oath that he made the payments to both Daniels and Karen McDougal at Trump’s behest for the “purpose of influencing [the] election.”
A recording made public last month reveals Cohen and Trump speaking directly about how to arrange the $150,000 payment to McDougal. Though Trump suggests writing a check, that payoff ended up being made by American Media Inc, thanks to Trump’s friendship with its chairman.
Trump also further undermined his claim to have not known about the payments in an interview Wednesday. Fox News teased a clip of the interview, due to air in full Thursday morning, in which Trump claimed he only knew about the payments “later on.” But mere seconds later, Trump also said the payments didn’t come from the campaign, “they came from me.”
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) August 22, 2018
Trump is apparently trying to have his cake and eat it too by trying to suggest that Cohen’s payments weren’t illegal while also maintaining his distance from them.
The indictment lays out that Cohen personally made the payment to Daniels for the purpose of keeping her story about having an affair with Trump out of the election. Because $130,000 far exceeds what can be legally contributed to a presidential campaign, it was a clear campaign finance violation.
Trump seems to believe that because he personally reimbursed Cohen, that somehow ameliorates what was illegal about Cohen’s payment. New documents show that Trump’s real estate company authorized reimbursing Cohen for the payment to Daniels in February 2017, after he’d already taken office. There’s thus no way the money came from Trump in 2016, and it likewise makes no sense that Trump made a payment but simultaneously didn’t know about it. Either way, he’s lying.
Despite Trump’s increasing willingness to take ownership of the payments, the White House continues to deny that Trump had an affair with either woman.