Late last month, Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, revealed that he’d paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep her quiet about an alleged affair with his boss. In the process, he kicked over a hornet’s nest.
Cohen claims that he paid the money out of his own pocket. But the manner in which the payment was arranged has an unmistakably rank odor to it. For one thing, he arranged the payment through an LLC created just weeks earlier. That led David Brock and other watchdogs to wonder if the payment fell afoul of campaign finance law.
Additionally, Cohen’s bank thought there was something fishy about the payment as well–enough that it filed a Suspicious Activity Report with the Treasury Department. If that wasn’t enough, Cohen’s decision to reveal the payment may have invalidated a non-disclosure agreement about the affair, and Daniels believes she is now free to tell all.
Well, Friday brought a new twist–one that may raise questions about how much Trump knew about the deal with Daniels and when he knew it. It turns out that Cohen arranged the deal using his Trump Organization email account.
NBC News chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson broke the story late Friday afternoon. Watch here.
NBC News obtained an email from Cohen’s bank, First Republic Bank, that was sent to Cohen’s Trump Organization account–not his personal Gmail account. The email from First Republic senior managing director Gary Farro stated that “the funds have been deposited into your checking account.” Cohen then forwarded the email to Daniels’ then-lawyer, Keith Davidson. The $130,000 was wired to Davidson a day later.
According to a source who was close to the October 2016 negotiations that resulted in the payment, Cohen regularly used his Trump Organization email account during those talks. That same source also revealed that when Daniels’ lawyer wrote to Cohen about the deal, he addressed Cohen in his capacity as “special counsel to Donald J. Trump.”
Now, why does this matter? Well, Cohen has maintained that neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign reimbursed him for the payment, and the White House has maintained that Trump had no knowledge of this payment. So how do you explain Cohen using his corporate email account, as well as Daniels’ lawyer addressing him in his capacity as Trump’s lawyer?
Daniels sued earlier this week to invalidate the nondisclosure agreement. When her lawyer in that suit, Michael Avenatti, learned of these emails, he concluded that it wouldn’t be long before we found out Trump himself was involved. Watch here.
Avenatti told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that this email proves that Cohen was using his Trump Organization email “at all times” in matters related to arranging the payment. He believes that when all is said and done, he will be able to prove that Cohen didn’t make the payment out of his own pocket. Rather, he suspects that it came from either the Trump Organization or a Trump surrogate.
Avenatti believes that if the money can be traced to Trump in any way, it could “pose a serious problem” for both Trump and Cohen. He believes that it proves the lie to the claims that Trump had no knowledge of the payment or the effort to silence Daniels. Avenatti has maintained for some time that Trump almost certainly knew about this, since New York state bar rules require lawyers to keep their clients informed at all times.
Avenatti further wondered why Cohen said that he “facilitated” the payment, rather than say, “I paid it.” It raises the question of whether Cohen was “a go-between between two parties”–namely, Trump and Daniels.
Later, Avenatti provided CNN’s Drew Griffin with that same email, on which both Cohen’s personal and corporate email accounts appear. Watch here.
Griffin told host Wolf Blitzer that legally, it matters whether Trump knew about this payment. He believes these disclosures strongly indicate that there was some communication with Trump. If this payment and other attempts to silence Daniels were done for political purposes, it could violate campaign finance law on two counts. Either this was an in-kind contribution that was not properly disclosed, or it was a donation that exceeded the legal limit.
Later on Friday, Cohen admitted that he used his Trump Organization email to arrange the payment to Daniels. However, he claimed that it was no different from the emails he sent back and forth from his corporate account to friends and family. He also reiterated that he paid the $130,000 out of his own pocket, tapping into his home equity line to do so.
This would be believable, if not for the questions that were raised for much of 2016 about intermingling between the Trump Organization and the Trump campaign. Remember, folks, Melania Trump’s infamous speech at the 2016 GOP Convention was written by a Trump Organization staff writer. When that tidbit broke, it raised questions about whether Trump Organization employees were working for the Trump campaign on the Trump Organization’s dime and not getting paid for it by the Trump campaign.
It’s inconceivable that Cohen wasn’t aware of these questions. You mean to tell me that he wasn’t thinking about at the very least, the optics of using his Trump Organization account for this transaction?
And that’s before we consider the 500-pound gorilla in the room. Considering that Cohen was using his title as Trump’s special counsel in this affair, this situation is firmly in “what did Trump know, and when did he know it?” territory. But when the best-case scenario is that this was an egregious lapse in judgment on Cohen’s part, it says a lot–and from Cohen’s perspective, it isn’t good.
(featured image courtesy Iowa Politics, available under a Creative Commons BY-SA license)