Donald Trump has claimed that hush money paid by his personal lawyer to Stormy Daniels did not come out of his campaign’s finances – further confirming the payment to the adult actress on the eve of the 2016 election.
In a series of tweets, written in a distinctly legalistic manner and unlike most of the postings on the president’s timeline, Mr Trump said the payment to Ms Daniels, had been made through his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who was then reimbursed through a monthly retainer.
“Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no role in this transaction,” Mr Trump wrote. “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.”
He said such agreements were commonplace “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.”
He added: “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.”
Mr Trump’s comments came after former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, a new member of the president’s legal team, appeared on Fox News and said Mr Trump reimbursed Mr Cohen for the $130,000 payment to Ms Daniels, an admission that appeared to contradict the president’s previous claim he did not know the source of the money and suggested he had no role in the matter.
Mr Giuliani’s comments, in an interview with Sean Hannity, were immediately seized on. Last month, flying back from an event in West Virginia, the president told reporters on Air Force One that he knew nothing about Mr Cohen’s payment to Ms Daniels.
Mr Giuliani told Mr Hannity, a favourite of conservatives and a broadcaster happy to toss softball questions to Mr Trump when he appears on his show, that the money to repay Mr Cohen had been “funnelled…through the law firm and the president repaid it”.
Asked if Mr Trump knew about the arrangement, Mr Giuliani said: “He didn’t know about the specifics of it, 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. These are busy people.”
There was much speculation as to whether Mr Giuliani’s marked part of a new legal strategy by the White House in dealing with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Mr Trump has recently parted company with a series of lawyers who had counselled cooperating with the investigation and who had worked to try and find a process in which the president could answer Mr Mueller’s questions while minimising his legal exposure.
On Wednesday, it emerged veteran lawyer Ty Cobb was quitting his position and was set to be replaced by Emmet Flood, an attorney who helped represent Bill Clinton during his impeachment hearings.
“It has been an honour to serve the country in this capacity at the White House,” said Mr Cobb. “I wish everybody well moving forward.”
Meanwhile, Mr Giuliani, who has a reputation as a legal brawler and rabble-rouser, has taken a key role in developing the president’s strategy, which may see an end to cooperation with Mr Mueller.
After his appearance on Fox News, the former mayor was asked by the Washington Post, if he had spoken with president since the interview.
He replied: “I did. He’s very pleased.”
Yet, experts have said that Mr Trump, whose anxiety about the probe appears to have increased after FBI agents raided Mr Cohen’s office and took away a large number of documents, has limited options when it comes to avoiding Mr Mueller – other than firing him.
While it has been reported Mr Trump has on more than one occasion been on the brink of firing the Special Counsel, whom he has accused of leading a “witch hunt”, most observers believe it would be step too far for most members of his party to accept.
Bradley Moss, a Washington-based national security lawyer, told The Independent Mr Mueller would have legal precedent on his side if he subpoenaed Mr Trump.
He said the US Supreme Court had previously ruled that a president can be subpoenaed, either to appear for interview or to hand over evidence.
He added: “If Mr Mueller wants to have a sit down with the president, there is nothing to stop him.”
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