In a story that would have ended any other presidency within 20 minutes of its publication, the Wall Street Journal reported in January that Donald Trump paid a six-figure sum to adult film actress Stormy Daniels for her silence about an (alleged) affair that (allegedly) occurred during his marriage to Melania. A host of cryptic denials and contradictory statements from both sides ensued, although throughout, Trump attorney Michael Cohen vehemently denied that any such affair took place.
Since then, the administration’s decision to embroil itself in a new scandal has allowed the Daniel’s story to fall by the wayside. But after a watchdog group filed a pair of complaints asserting that the supposed payment constituted an unreported contribution to the Trump campaign, Cohen elected to respond by issuing this statement, ostensibly to refute the allegations. It is at once a master class in cagey lawyering and a cautionary tale in public relations.
I am Mr. Trump’s longtime special counsel, and I have proudly served in that role for more than a decade.
Aside: Given everything going on in the White House these days, Cohen might be wise to describe his role differently, just in case his boss gets confused when considering whether to fire similarly-titled individuals in the future.
In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford.
This part is truly astonishing. Michael Cohen is claiming that he gave Daniels his own money, an admission that both contradicts his previous statements and also begs an obvious question: Why? (It feels like this should go without saying, but he doesn’t answer it.)
Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither [of those parties] reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.
This reads like a strong denial that the president played any role in financing the payment, until you realize that the enumeration of “the Trump Organization” and “the Trump campaign” does not preclude the possibility that Donald J. Trump, as an individual, ponied up the cash for his lawyer—which, if you were hoping to do this in a way that did not implicate campaign finance law, is probably the approach you would take.
The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.
This is, at best, a statement of opinion. An “expenditure” means a payment “made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office,” and “contribution” is defined in similar terms. Federal law is also careful to note that expenditures made “in cooperation, consultation, or concert” with a candidate, or at their “request or suggestion,” count as “contributions.” Obviously, how the law applies to these specific facts is a question for the FEC to resolve. But based on what we know, it’s not difficult to see how buying the silence of someone with whom a major-party presidential candidate had an affair might have been done for the “purpose of influencing an election.”
I do not plan to provide any further comment on the FEC matter or regarding Ms. Clifford.
Just so we’re clear, notably absent from all of Cohen’s assertions about the legality of the mystery money is any suggestion that the underlying event that prompted the gift—the affair between the President of the United States and Daniels, which Cohen previously dismissed as a lie—didn’t take place.
Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you harm or damage. I will always protect Mr. Trump.
You’re doing a great job, man.