In the last three years, one thing has become as certain as death and taxes in the political world. Whenever Donald Trump hears about even the tiniest perceived slight, we can expect him to go into a rampage on Twitter. One notable exception, though, has been the saga surrounding his alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels. Ever since this story first broke, Trump has remained uncharacteristically silent.
The closest he’s come to speaking out on the matter came on March 16. That day, he sought to join an effort by his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen to make Daniels cough up $20 million for supposedly breaching a non-disclosure agreement that Cohen brokered with Daniels just days before the election. That led to questions about whether he was tacitly admitting that he was “David Dennison,” the pseudonym Cohen allegedly used for him.
Well, Trump finally spoke for himself on the matter on Thursday. He claims that he had no knowledge of Cohen paying Daniels $130,000 in return for Daniels’ silence. In so doing, he may have put Cohen, and possibly himself, in a world of legal hurt.
You may remember that Cohen “facilitated” the payment to Daniels in return for her silence. Cohen claims that he tapped into his home equity line to make the payment, without Trump’s knowledge. But that seems hard to believe, given that Cohen brokered the deal while using his Trump Organization email, and also did so in his capacity as a “special counsel” to Trump.
While flying back to Washington on Air Force One from a visit to West Virginia, Trump backed up Cohen’s claim that Cohen acted alone. Watch here, courtesy The Associated Press.
When a reporter directly asked Trump about the payment, Trump claimed that he not only didn’t know about it, but didn’t know where Cohen got the money. He suggested that reporters ask Cohen why he made the payment in the first place.
Given Trump’s reputation for spewing lies–er, alternative facts–almost on an hourly basis, not many people believe that Trump was completely in the dark about this deal. Besides the fact that Cohen used his Trump corporate email, he just happened to call upon the services of one of his former Trump Organization colleagues to help him get a restraining order in February to silence Daniels.
In the latter case, Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, found it hard to believe that Cohen didn’t turn to one of the many other lawyers in Southern California–unless Trump himself knew about it. So it came as no surprise that Avenatti thinks Trump is blowing crystal meth smoke.
We very much look forward to testing the truthfulness of Mr. Trump's feigned lack of knowledge concerning the $130k payment as stated on Air Force One. As history teaches us, it is one thing to deceive the press and quite another to do so under oath. #searchforthetruth #basta
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) April 5, 2018
Avenatti may get a chance to “test the truthfulness” of this line very soon. He told MSNBC’s Ari Melber that first thing Monday, he intends to make a petition to depose Trump. Watch here.
— TheBeat w/Ari Melber (@TheBeatWithAri) April 5, 2018Loading...
Here’s something else to consider. Trump, and especially Cohen, are in the soup even if they’re telling the truth. A number of legal experts believe that if Cohen arranged the payment, it would amount to an illegal in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign. Specifically, it would far exceed the legal limit an individual donor can give to a campaign in a single cycle. If Trump were involved in arranging the payment, it would be no less illegal. However, Potter believes Cohen would come out better if Trump had reimbursed him.
Moreover, it would amount to an egregious violation of New York state bar rules. Not only are lawyers required to keep their clients informed of such matters, but they aren’t allowed to provide “financial assistance” to a client.
There’s something else to consider. While salivating at the prospect of questioning Trump under oath, Avenatti noticed the 500-pound gorilla in the room–if Trump didn’t know about the non-disclosure agreement, legally, it doesn’t exist.
Good (actually GREAT) things come to those who wait!!! The strength of our case just went up exponentially. You can't have an agreement when one party claims to know nothing about it. #nodiscipline #thanksforplaying #basta
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) April 5, 2018
While chatting with Melber, Avenatti theorized that Trump is trying to throw Cohen under the bus–a move that could potentially come back to bite him. Watch here.
— TheBeat w/Ari Melber (@TheBeatWithAri) April 5, 2018
Avenatti believes that Cohen is being set up to “be the fall guy.” However, he doesn’t think Cohen can withstand what will likely be a massive amount of pressure–and could potentially flip on Trump. In a colossal understatement, Avenatti said that “very, very bad things could happen” if Cohen flips. Remember, folks, the attorney-client privilege doesn’t apply if the lawyer has knowledge of criminal activity.
So to sum up–if Trump is lying, he puts himself at risk of being racked up for perjury, and implicating himself in campaign finance violations. If he was telling the truth, he may have put Cohen’s legal career on life support and given Avenatti a window to torpedo the agreement. It’s not often that you have a situation in which you’re cooked whether or not you’re telling the truth.
(featured image courtesy Gage Skidmore, available under a Creative Commons BY-SA license)