The 130,000 Bucks That Stopped Everywhere

Team Trump has yet another new story about the money paid to a porn actress days before the 2016 election to keep her from publicly claiming that she had adulterous sex with the candidate.

Mike Segar / Reuters

Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that read, “The Buck Stops Here.” On Wednesday, Donald Trump’s newest attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, went on Fox News to address the $130,000 bucks that seem to stop everywhere. Days before the 2016 presidential election, the porn actress Stormy Daniels received that six-figure sum from Trump’s then-attorney, Michael Cohen, for ceasing to tell the public that she and Trump once had adulterous sex.

Did the money come from Trump or the Trump campaign?

On February 13, Cohen, who facilitated the transaction using a email address, told The New York Times in a statement, “I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 … 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.”

On March 6, 2018, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “there was no knowledge of any payments from the president.” That same week, Cohen told ABC News that he took out a line of credit on his house in order to secure the $130,000 and paid it himself without his client’s knowledge.

That struck many as highly suspect.

So on April 6, 2018, President Trump himself was asked on Air Force One, “Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?” He flatly told the reporter, “No,” adding that he didn’t know why  his attorney, Michael Cohen, paid the woman. “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen.” The reporter asked, “Do you know where he got the money?” Trump replied, “No, I don’t know.”

Trump was asking us to believe that all these months later, he remained unaware why his personal attorney paid $130,000 to a porn actress he knew.

And that brings us to Wednesday night. Now, Rudy Giuliani says that Trump repaid the $130,000 to Michael Cohen. The lawyer didn’t use his own money after all. The new story produced a remarkable followup segment on Fox News, in which Laura Ingraham grudgingly implied that Trump and his allies have proven themselves to be liars by blatantly contradicting themselves—then quickly softened that heretical conclusion by reframing it as though the important thing is what the left will say, not the actual truth of the matter:

At about the 1:26 mark, Ingraham speculates, “Well did Trump pay it after April 6?” It would be odd to wait that long to reimburse one’s lawyer for a six-figure expense, but that would allow Trump to claim he wasn’t lying on Air Force One. What Ingraham could not have known then is that after the Hannity interview, Giuliani gave an interview to Robert Costa of The Washington Post.

In that interview, Giuliani indeed tried to explain away Trump’s statement on Air Force One by saying the president only became aware of the matter in the last two weeks. Then Costa asked how the reimbursement payments were structured.

“Do the arithmetic, right?” Giuliani explained. “$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.”

That would mean the reimbursement payments began long before April.

So that’s their current story: Trump’s lawyer borrowed money against the equity in his house in late 2016; rather than be reimbursed immediately by his allegedly multi-billionaire boss, he began being paid back some months later in perhaps 7 installments; and although that would mean that the reimbursements began happening long before this April, Trump just found out about them, despite this being a longstanding matter of public controversy that he, his surrogates, and the White House press secretary all addressed over many months.

Later, Costa presses him:

Costa: Why did Cohen say for months that he used his own money?

Giuliani: He did. The original payment was his money.

Costa: But it came from President Trump at some level.

Giuliani: Is Cohen’s money fungible? Yeah, Trump was paying him a retainer.

Evidently we’re expected to believe that the retainer is unchanged even when six-figure expenses come up, giving no cause to communicate that they occurred.

All told, this latest story isn’t particularly plausible. But if the past is any guide, Trump or one of his enablers will give the public a brand-new story to parse soon enough.