U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday new legal team member Rudy Giuliani needs to “get his facts straight” about the hush money paid to pornographic actress Stormy Daniels in 2016, and maintained “we’re not changing any stories” after a series of revised explanations that have clouded the settlement.
Trump told reporters Friday at the White House that Giuliani, who joined Trump’s team of personal attorneys, is “a great guy but he just started a day ago” and was still “learning the subject matter.”
Giuliani upended the previous White House defense of the settlement by saying on Wednesday that Trump was aware of personal lawyer Michael Cohen’s payments to Daniels.
In a statement issued later Friday, Giuliani said the payment did not violate U.S. campaign laws, and he added it would have been made even if Trump was not running for president.
“The payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the president’s family,” he said. “It would have been done in any event, whether he was a candidate or not.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders acknowledged on Thursday she first learned Wednesday night, along with the rest of America, that Trump compensated Cohen for the payoff to Daniels just before the 2016 election when Giuliani made the comment on a Fox News Channel program Wednesday night.
Sanders was pressed on whether she lied or was kept in the dark when she had 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.
Trump confirmed earlier Thursday on Twitter what Giuliani said on the television program: that Cohen was reimbursed by the president for the payment made to Daniels.
This directly contradicted Trump’s earlier comments.
On Air Force One a month ago, the president responded “no” after a reporter asked if 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 pornographic actress and director, whose real name is Stephanie Gregory Clifford, has alleged 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.
Trump maintains the non-disclosure agreement reached with Daniels was “very common among celebrities and people of wealth” and said it “will be used in arbitration for damages” against Daniels since in recent weeks she has given interviews about the purported affair.
Daniels has claimed the no-talk agreement is not valid because Trump never signed it.
Trump said the non-disclosure 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,” a statement Daniels said she signed under duress and subsequently has disavowed.
Giuliani, who is a former mayor of New York City, first disclosed the monthly reimbursements by Trump to Cohen in a Fox News interview Wednesday with program host Sean Hannity. Hannity is a strong on-air defender of the president and frequently speaks with him.
Giuliani told Hannity that Trump “didn’t know about the specifics of [the payments], 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 Nov. 8, 2016, election against his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Imagine if that came out on Oct. 15, 2016, in the middle of the, you know, last debate with Hillary Clinton,” Giuliani told the Fox & Friends show Thursday. “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 of 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 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.”