- President Donald Trump’s outside attorney, Rudy Giuliani, explained where the legal team stands with regard to the ongoing criminal investigation into the president’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen.
- Giuliani said that investigation, taking place in the Southern District of New York, “doesn’t really affect us.”
- Giuliani explained that the Trump team will continue to argue that the hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels was made to protect his family, particularly his wife Melania Trump, from any embarrassment, and not to boost Trump’s campaign.
- Giuliani also responded to a report that Ukraine paid Cohen at least $400,000 to help facilitate a more substantial meeting between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Trump.
President Donald Trump’s outside attorney Rudy Giuliani outlined where the president and his legal team stand with regard to the ongoing criminal investigation of Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, during a Wednesday interview with Business Insider.
Giuliani said the legal team isn’t terribly concerned about the developments in that investigation because “it doesn’t really affect us.”
“I hope they’re not using him as a pawn, that would be really unfair to him,” Giuliani said, suggesting that the government could be pursuing Cohen in an effort to implicate Trump. “But, you know, if history is any guide here, that may be what they’re doing.”
Giuliani said he has only seen “lots of speculation” but “no proof of any kind of evidence of any kind” that Cohen committed any wrongdoing.
“And I feel sorry for him because I haven’t yet seen anything that showed he did anything wrong,” the former New York City mayor said. “So we’ll have to see what happens.”
Giuliani said his legal team has had some contact with Cohen’s lawyers, but not with Cohen directly. The legal team has been in contact with Joanna Hendon, the attorney representing Trump’s interests in the Cohen case, which is taking place in the Southern District of New York.
Cohen is under criminal investigation for possible campaign-finance violations and bank fraud. He has not been charged with a crime. The upcoming court date in the case is set for next week. Last month, his home, office, and hotel room were raided by the FBI as, per Department of Justice protocol, a last-resort option to obtain documents that the government felt would be destroyed otherwise.
The Melania defense
At the center of all things Cohen is the $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Cohen made the payment to Daniels just prior to the 2016 presidential election to keep her quiet about her alleged 2006 affair with Trump. As a part of the deal, Daniels signed a non-disclosure agreement that prevented her from speaking about her allegations, and she is suing Cohen and Trump in an effort to get out of the agreement.
One of the biggest questions regarding that payment is whether it constituted a campaign-finance violation. After Cohen had initially said he was not reimbursed for the payment, Giuliani said Trump did pay back his longtime attorney for the expenditure. The payment was not disclosed on Federal Election Commission reports nor on Trump’s financial disclosure with the Office of Government Ethics, which Giuliani said was because he only recently found out the payments he was making to Cohen through a retainer included the repayment of that hush money arrangement.
Last week, Trump included the payment in his 2018 financial disclosure report, contesting whether it had to be reported but saying that it was listed in the name of transparency. OGE Director David Apol disagreed with that assessment, and said it should’ve been included in the prior year’s report.
But with regard to campaign finance, the hot debate is over whether Cohen made the payment to benefit Trump’s political standing, or if it was made to protect his family, particularly his wife Melania Trump, from embarrassment.
- Win McNamee/Getty Images
As Giuliani told Business Insider on Wednesday, the central focus of their argument as to why it could not be a campaign finance violation is because the payment was made to prevent that embarrassment, not to boost his political standing.
“These things get settled for sums of money in a non-disclosure agreement,” he said. “These things would’ve happened whether there was a campaign or not. So, campaign finance laws don’t apply. But if they do, it’s been all reimbursed. [Trump] can donate unlimited amounts to his campaign. And he did. He donated $100 million or so.”
Experts who previously spoke with Business Insider said the Melania argument has merit to it.
“If Trump himself paid Cohen back, he could make the argument that he was doing it to hide the affair from Melania,” Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Department of Justice, previously told Business Insider. “That wouldn’t constitute a political contribution, and it gives Trump some cover, because the fact that he’s had affairs is hardly a revelation, and it’s certainly not criminal.”
Both Cohen and Giuliani have previously made the Melania argument, although Giuliani said earlier this month that Daniels’ story would have been politically damaging to Trump if it had come out in October 2016. Trump’s attorney then sought to clarify those comments, saying in a statement that the reference to timing was simply his own observation and not the president’s. In that statement, Giuliani said the payment was made “in order to protect the President’s family.”
The Cohen payments
Another element of Cohen’s troubles that could spill over into Trump involves controversial payments he accepted after the 2016 presidential election.
Michael Avenatti, Daniels’ attorney, released information earlier this month on Cohen’s financial dealings showing that he’d accepted payments from huge corporations such as AT&T and Novartis that hoped to gain access and garner familiarity to Trump. The businesses subsequently confirmed the information. Cohen did not register as a lobbyist or disclose those payments.
Meanwhile, the BBC reported Wednesday that Cohen accepted payments of at least $400,000 to help orchestrate a more substantial meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko last June. Cohen and Poroshenko’s office denied the story.
Giuliani, who met with Poroshenko in Ukraine late last year, told Business Insider that he did not know anything about the reported payment to Cohen, adding he had “no reason not to believe” Cohen.
“Payments can be proved pretty easily, so it would be silly to deny it if it happened,” Giuliani said. “And he never registered as a foreign agent. And as far as I know, never acted as one.”