Rudy Giuliani made another huge admission about the Stormy Daniels case that experts say puts Trump in legal jeopardy
- President Donald Trump's new defense lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, indicated on national television Thursday that Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid off a porn star shortly before the 2016 election to protect Trump's candidacy.
- Giuliani revealed Wednesday night that Trump was aware of the $130,000 payment at the time and reimbursed Cohen for it in installments over several months as part of his salary.
- Legal experts said the revelation puts Trump in legal jeopardy.
President Donald Trump's new lead defense lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, threw cold water Thursday morning on the crux of his and Trump's claims that a $130,000 payment to a porn star one month before the 2016 US election, in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump, did not violate campaign finance laws.
News of the payment first surfaced earlier this year, when Trump's longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, admitted to paying the porn star, Stephanie Clifford, who is known as Stormy Daniels.
Trump initially said he did not know of and was not involved in the payment.
But Giuliani shattered that claim Wednesday night, telling Fox News' Sean Hannity that Trump had "reimbursed" Cohen for the Daniels payment shortly after the election, adding that he had paid Cohen back in installments "over a period of several months."
Both Giuliani and Trump went to great lengths later Wednesday and early Thursday to underscore that the payment was not made to protect Trump's candidacy, but rather as part of Cohen's regular salary and to stop Daniels from allegedly spreading "false and extortionist accusations" about Trump.
But on Thursday, Giuliani's explanation evolved in a way that could prove legally damaging to both Trump and Cohen.
Speaking to "Fox & Friends" host Ainsley Earhardt, Giuliani first reiterated that Cohen was paid back for the Daniels payment, adding that Cohen is being "treated like a villain" for trying to help Trump's family - as opposed to the Trump campaign.
Then, Giuliani tacked on: "Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton. Cohen made it go away. He did his job."
Campaign finance law experts have said that if Cohen paid Daniels to protect Trump's candidacy during the election, it could be considered an in-kind political contribution and would violate the individual contribution limit of $2,700.
Legal experts also said that if Trump was aware of the payment, he could face legal exposure for failing to properly disclose it and his reimbursement to Cohen on campaign finance forms.
Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Justice Department, said of Giuliani's disclosure: "Rudy has successfully argued the campaign finance violation in the past 24 hours."
"Cohen paid Daniels the hush money, Trump reimbursed Cohen, and Cohen did this to help elect Trump and avoid a debate issue," he added. "It's irrelevant whether the reimbursement came from campaign donations, the Trump Organization, or spare change from Trump's couch."
Patrick Cotter, a longtime former federal prosecutor who has worked with members of the special counsel Robert Mueller's team, echoed that view.
"This is bad," he said. "I imagine Mr. Giuliani wishes he hadn't said that. When you admit that the motive - or at least, a motive - for the $130,000 payment was to keep Stormy Daniels from doing something you fear may interfere with the campaign, it's a direct violation of campaign finance laws, at a minimum."
Both Cohen and Trump are currently under federal criminal investigation. The Manhattan US attorney's office is investigating Cohen for possible bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance law violations. Mueller's team is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice and collusion with Russia during the 2016 election.
Also on Thursday, news broke that federal investigators apparently wiretapped Cohen's phones, and intercepted a call from the White House.
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