Days later, the FBI seized documents from Cohen’s office.
Then, during an April 26 interview on Fox News, Trump said that Cohen “represented me” with “this crazy Stormy Daniels deal.” And on May 2, Rudy Giuliani, acting as Trump’s attorney, told Fox News that Trump had repaid Cohen for the outlay of $130,000 in hush money, and that he knew the “general arrangement” with Daniels but not “the specifics.”
Trump confused matters further the next day, tweeting (ellipses in originals):
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. 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. 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.
The next day, Trump said this to reporters about Giuliani’s Fox News appearance: “I will tell you this, when Rudy made the statement, Rudy’s great, but Rudy had just started, and he wasn’t totally familiar with everything.”
All told, Trump and his associates expended a lot of time, money, and effort on their series of implausible, repeatedly contradictory public evasions. But none of it prevented yesterday’s news from outing:
Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former fixer, made the extraordinary admission in court on Tuesday that Mr. Trump had directed him to arrange payments to two women during the 2016 campaign to keep them from speaking publicly about affairs they said they had with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen acknowledged the illegal payments while pleading guilty to breaking campaign finance laws and other charges, a litany of crimes that revealed both his shadowy involvement in Mr. Trump’s circle and his own corrupt business dealings.
He told a judge in U.S. District Court that the payments to the women were made “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.”
Cohen’s attorney then took to Twitter and made this statement:
Today he stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election. If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?
Said Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel, at Lawfare:
This episode, assuming in the instance the form of campaign finance law violations, is about the most powerful man in the country—whom prosecutors have observed displaying contempt for legal considerations and constraints, and lying consistently about his actions.
While the Daniels matter is fairly straightforward—hush money to conceal an affair—the McDougal case is a still more elaborate subterfuge entailing a “catch and kill” arrangement by a friendly media company to buy McDougal’s public silence with cash and a disingenuous promise of space for her own writing. As the plea agreement makes clear, this is a count involving third-party corporate contributions, not just the candidate’s personal resources. Cohen may have much to say about how this scheme was hatched, but he stated that it took place at the president’s direction. The criminal information filed today in the Cohen matters lays out the steps taken by the Trump Organization and Cohen to falsify documentation to cover the reimbursements he received for his hush money expenses.
The degree to which Donald Trump also directed these activities, or took other actions behind the scenes to encourage Cohen and other witnesses in a course of dishonesty and fraudulent conduct, remains to be seen.
Trump’s legal peril may increase further if he is forced to testify under oath in an ongoing civil lawsuit brought by Daniels earlier this year.