In an interview with “Fox & Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt released Thursday, President Trump addressed the D.C.-shaking guilty plea by his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. The $280,000 in “hush money” payments to former Playmate Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels, he said, came from him, not his campaign.
Asked if he knew about the payments from Cohen to the women alleging past sexual affairs with him, Trump told Earhardt, “Later on I knew.”
“They weren’t taken out of campaign finance, that’s a big thing,” he said of the payments. “That’s a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They didn’t come out of the campaign. They came from me — and I tweeted about it.”
In May, Trump issued a series of tweets on the Daniels’ NDA payment, in which he stressed, “Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll in this transaction”:
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.
Here’s the clip of the interview via “Fox & Friends”:
So if that’s true, does it make any difference? Some legal experts say it’s neither here nor there — if his payments were specifically made for the sake of promoting his candidacy, and if such NDA payments fall under the definition of an in-kind donation to a campaign, which is the crux of the issue.
Since Cohen’s bombshell guilty plea, the president has emphasized that he does not believe Cohen really broke any law. “Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime,” he tweeted Wednesday. “President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!”
Harvard Law Professor Alan Hershowitz agrees. “The president is entitled to pay hush money to anyone he wants during a campaign,” he told MSNBC Wednesday. “There are no restrictions on what a candidate can contribute to his own campaign. So if, in fact, the president directed Cohen to do it as his lawyer and was going to compensate him for it, the president committed no crime. If Cohen did it on his own then Cohen commits the crime.”
Trump’s comments suggest that if he did commit a crime, he did not do so knowingly. Cohen, however, specifically stated in his guilty plea Tuesday that he paid the women knowing that it was a violation of campaign finance law.