The White House press secretary acknowledged Thursday that she’d first learned the night before, along with the rest of America, that President Donald Trump repaid his lawyer for a payoff to an adult movie performer made just before the 2016 election.
“The first awareness I had was during the interview last night,” Sarah Sanders said during a regular televised press briefing. “The White House press office wouldn’t coordinate with the president’s outside legal team on legal strategy.”
Sanders was pressed about whether she had lied or had been kept in the dark when she previously told reporters that the president was not aware of the payments.
“I’ve given the best information that I had at the time,” she replied.
Giuliani remarks confirmed
Trump confirmed earlier in the day on Twitter what one of his lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, said on a Fox News Channel program the prior evening: The president reimbursed attorney Michael Cohen for the payments made to Stormy Daniels.
This directly contradicted Trump’s earlier comments.
On Air Force One a month ago, the president responded “no” after a reporter asked whether he knew about the payment Cohen had made to Daniels, and Trump also said he did not know why his attorney had made the payment.
The actress and director, whose real name is Stephanie Gregory Clifford, has alleged that she had a one-night affair in 2006 in a Nevada hotel with Trump. The president and his attorneys maintained Thursday there was no such sexual encounter and that no campaign funds were involved in the payments made to Daniels.
Daniels has claimed the no-talk agreement is not valid because Trump never signed it. The president’s mention of arbitration for damages refers to the fact that Daniels has given interviews about the purported tryst in recent weeks.
Daniels has also said that the letter of admission that there was no tryst was signed under duress and that she has since disavowed it.
Giuliani, a former mayor of New York City, spoke about Trump’s reimbursement to Cohen with Fox host Sean Hannity, a strong on-air defender of the president’s who frequently speaks with him.
Giuliani told Hannity that Trump “didn’t know about the specifics of [the payment], as far as I know, but he did know about the general arrangement that Michael would take care of things like this. Like I take care of things like this for my clients. I don’t burden them with every single thing that comes along.”
On Thursday, in another interview on Fox, Giuliani said the payment to quiet Daniels came at a sensitive time in Trump’s campaign, just before the November 8, 2016, election against his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Imagine if that came out on October 15th, 2016, in the middle of the, you know, last debate with Hillary Clinton,” Giuliani said on the Fox & Friends show. “Cohen didn’t even ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.”
Giuliani, who also is a former federal prosecutor, said the president did not know full details about the payments until about 10 days ago.
After Giuliani’s disclosure about the payment to Daniels, her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said Americans “should be outraged.”
Cohen, under federal investigation for business deals said to be unrelated to his legal work for the president, acknowledges he received a personal loan to make the payment to Daniels through a corporation he created.
The ultimate source of the funds is an important legal distinction. The $130,000 payment far exceeds the allowable size of personal campaign donations that Cohen could have made, although Trump could make sizable donations to his own campaign. Daniels-related expenses have not been reported as campaign donations.
Trump “appears to have violated federal law” by failing to disclose he owed Cohen for the hush money payment, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which has filed complaints with the Department of Justice and the Office of Government Ethics about the matter.
“There is now more than enough evidence for the DOJ [Department of Justice] to investigate whether President Trump intentionally omitted the Stormy Daniels liability from his personal financial disclosures,” CREW Board Chairman Norman Eisen said. “This is a very serious matter, including because there can be criminal penalties for false statements.”
VOA’s Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.