Rudy Giuliani on Sean Hannity’s show last night turned into a bombshell. It was a very strange interview for Trump’s new lawyer. The former head of the SDNY and New York mayor talked in a Fox News-y kind of way, but not like a lawyer well-versed in the issues. He called Hillary a “criminal”, etc.
He said that the public could understand Kushner going to jail, but would not stand for it if the DOJ went after Ivanka (because “men are disposable”).
He called the FBI in New York a bunch of “stormtroopers”. This is completely weird since Rudy worked with these guys when he was a prosecutor, and when he was mayor of NYC during 9/11, and had nothing bu praise for them. Some of the same people are there.
I know the New York FBI. There are no “stormtroopers” there; just a group of people devoted to the rule of law and the truth. Our country would be better off if our leaders tried to be like them, rather than comparing them to Nazis.
— James Comey (@Comey) May 3, 2018
One thing interesting: Giuliani offered new rationale for why Trump fired then-FBI Director James B. Comey in May 2017, saying the president was justified in removing Comey because Comey would not publicly say that the president was not under investigation as part of the FBI’s probe of Russian election interference.
“He fired Comey because Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn’t a target of the investigation,” Giuliani said. “He’s entitled to that. Hillary Clinton got that, and he couldn’t get that. So he fired him, and he said, ‘I’m free of this guy.’ ”
That sounds to me like he fired Comey because Comey wouldn’t clear him of any wrongdoing. That’s… that’s still obstruction in my book. In Mueller’s too, I would think.
Because Mueller is looking at all of this conduct at the time. To establish obstruction, Mueller needs to show that in trying to hamstring or derail the probe, Trump acted with “corrupt intent,” say, to protect himself and his top officials from scrutiny. The leaked questions from Mueller show that he wants to ask Trump about that very same March 30 call with Comey in which he seems to have demanded that Comey publicly exonerate him. Mueller wants to probe Trump’s state of mind about all of this, including whether Comey’s public confirmation of the investigation — which angered Trump — helped precipitate Comey’s firing.
Giuliani has now publicly confirmed that all that did indeed figure into Trump’s rationale.
As incredible a reveal as this was, it is not the biggest story to come out of the Giuliani-Hannity interview.
At first, everyone assumed it was a slip. I thought so. But then it became apparent that this was planned.
After all, the feds had raided Cohen’s apartment, house and workplace. They must have learned that Trump had repaid Cohen for the Stormy Daniels hush money.
Giuliani was trying to get ahead of the story — which apparently was about campaign finance violations. They were undoubtedly more concerned about that than anything having to do with Stormy Daniels.
The first problem, fron a PR standpoint, is that Trump denied knowledge of the payment only a mere 17 days ago. Put bluntly, he lied to the American people.
The second problem is legal. Who made the payment, and the mechanics of reimbursement, is not as important as why the payment was made. If it was for the campaign, that is an illegal and unreported campaign in-kind expenditure.
The situation draws parallels to John Edwards’ trial for accepting similar in-kind contributions. DOJ could not get a conviction, likely because there was no smoking gun evidence indicating that payments to Edwards’ mistress were campaign related and not aimed at saving his marriage.
The Edwards precedent may be one of the reasons U.S. attorneys from the Southern District of New York raided Cohen’s office and hotel where he was staying: they may have been looking for documentary evidence of his state of mind to determine whether Cohen’s payment was more about Melania or the campaign.
You see, if Cohen made the payment alone and neither Trump nor anyone in the campaign knew anything about it, Trump and the campaign officials would have done nothing wrong. Yes, they have to report contributions and expenditures on federal campaign reports (where they certify they are making truthful statements). But if these campaign officials knew nothing of the contribution, they did nothing wrong. (Cohen might still be on the hook, though, if it could be proven that he did it to support the campaign.)
Now, thanks to Giuliani, the picture looks considerably different. If what Giuliani said to Hannity is true, and if the payments were made to help the campaign and not (just) to help Trump personally, the campaign may be implicated in illegal activity. If Trump knew that Cohen was advancing him a $130,000 loan for campaign purposes, that would have to be reported by the campaign, as would the payments Giuliani said Trump made in installments to Cohen. These would be campaign expenditures that the committee has to keep track of. As Philip Bump notes, if the Trump Organization facilities were used to help make these payments, then there may be additional campaign violations related to the use of corporate resources for campaigns.
Ultimately, Giuliani offered two defenses for Trump on Hannity. One, as mentioned, is that the payments were not campaign-related.
The other is that Trump did not know the specifics of what Cohen was doing; just that Cohen was the fixer taking care of things just like Giuliani said he did for his clients. It is a defense that could well be corroborated or rejected based on what’s in the seized Cohen materials.
Perhaps there’s proof in the Cohen documents of an intent for this to be unrelated to the campaign. But it is just as plausible that Giuliani went out there because they know new information will come out, and this is a way to try to get ahead of the story.
Right now, Trump is in a bit of a bind. Either he lied to the American people or he has an incompetent lawyer. (It could be both). For his part, Giuliani told the Washington Post’s Robert Costa that the president was “very pleased” with his performance and knew in advance about the revelation.
Trump, in a series of tweets that I am convinced was ghostwritten by Rudy, tried to explain that it was not a campaign violation:
The person who wrote Trump’s tweet this morning correctly used the words arbitration, retainer, reimbursement, extortionist, contributions.
Then mistyped “role”.
Anyway, it’s just curious that Trump staff add fake typos when ghost-writing for him to “emulate his style”.
— Pwn All The Things (@pwnallthethings) May 3, 2018
Getting to the substance,I’m not sure what some of Trumps tweets means. A monthly retainer is one thing. Reimbursement is another thing. I’ll tell you what it SOUNDS like. It sounds like they were structuring this in a way to avoid having it flagged as a campaign expenditure. It sounds like bank fraud.
That aside, if fixing Trump’s affairs was something that Cohen did on a regular basis, for which he was paid a monthly retainer, and he had been doing that before Trump announced his campaign, that certainly works in Trump’s favor. The problem, however, is that the Stormy Daniels humping took place back in 2006 and Stormy had talked about it in 2010. Why then didn’t Cohen “fix” it then? It seems that he only tried to fix it BECAUSE Trump was now in a national election.
Rudy went on Fox & Friends this morning and insisted that the payment to Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) was personal, not political. But then, he said this:
WHAT?!? It sounds to me like the money was used to prevent something from hurting his campaign.
What’s getting lost in the Rudy-Stormy news is the TIMING of the $130,000 payment to Daniels — Oct. 27, 2016.
Here’s what happened in those final days of the ’16 campaign pic.twitter.com/F3r2TrIV7p
— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) May 3, 2018
I don’t know what is going on and what the point of this media blitz by Giuliani is. It is hurting Trump badly. I do believe this report from Robert Costa:
WH aide is bewildered this AM by Giuliani but says many on staff now feels like they’re not in control of the situation. Aide says POTUS and Giuliani are “running” their own strategy and have a generational rapport and shared grievances/perspectives….
— Robert Costa (@costareports) May 3, 2018
WH had no idea Rudy was going to say what he said last night. Neither did a number of people around Trump. This is a car being driven by Trump and Rudy and the rest are all locked in their seats https://t.co/xJRLG5cqnm
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) May 3, 2018
It boils down to this: If Cohen indeed made the payment — either as a gift or even as a loan without interest — to aid Trump politically, it could be considered an illegal and unreported campaign contribution in excess of the $2,700 federal contribution limit that was in effect for the 2016 campaign.
In a matter of 48 hours, we’ve learned the president of the United States deceived the American public about his health in the 2016 campaign and about engaging in a scheme to pay off a porn star to silence her during the campaign
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) May 3, 2018
It’s really clever how the Deep State got Rudy Giuliani to show the world that Trump and Cohen lied about the payment to Stormy Daniels. And it used @seanhannity for this operation. Fiendishly smart!
— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) May 3, 2018
None of you took Rudy seriously when he said he was going to end this thing in two weeks.
— Adam Wren (@adamwren) May 3, 2018
Never would I have guessed that the President’s mortal enemies would be Rudy Giuliani, Sean Hannity, Fox News, his own personal physicians, and himself.
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) May 3, 2018
Yikes. Former prosecutor Solomon Wisenberg tells @DanaBashCNN on air that Rudy Giuliani’s remarks today are the legal equivalent of a “murder-suicide.”
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) May 3, 2018
Hannity: Tell us what kind of ice cream @realDonaldTrump likes.
Rudy: [leans into microphone] Hitler.
— Jake Maccoby (@jdmaccoby) May 3, 2018
Brit Hume: So it wasn’t a campaign finance violation
Everyone: Actually it still is a campaign finance violation
Brit: Oh so now we’re mad about campaign finance violations? pic.twitter.com/vShssnMskY
— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) May 3, 2018
Giuliani: Boy it’s hot in here, I’m gonna take my shirt off
Hannity: Rudy, you don’t have to do that…
*Giuliani removes shirt, revealing a t-shirt printed with the words “Trump Sold Heath Ledger The Drugs That Killed Him”*
— popular comedy account “the pixelated boat” (@pixelatedboat) May 3, 2018
Interviewer: Hello, Mr. Giuli-
Giuliani: Trump deliberately drowned a monkey in a toilet once
— popular comedy account “the pixelated boat” (@pixelatedboat) May 3, 2018
And, completely unrelated, another blow to Trump:
— David Fahrenthold (@Fahrenthold) May 3, 2018
UPDATE: This interview Giuliani gave to the Washington Post is FULL of the same admissions. He keeps coming back to the point that they did not consider the reimbursement to Cohen to be campaign expenses, as if saying that gets him out of hot water. The problem is, while intent is relevant, it looks like a strange structuring. It looks like they were trying to avoid making it look like a campaign expense when everything else says it was. Cohen paid Stormy “right before the election” and the reimbursements started “probably in 2017” and “that and a few other situations that might have been considered campaign expeditures” were ended in 2017.
So even when it comes to Trump’s intent, we really “don’t know” if Trump considered personal or political.
The amazing thing is…. Mueller wasn’t looking into this. The SDNY was. Now, I think, Mueller SHOULD look into it, based on Rudy’s interviews.