- President Donald Trump’s former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen reportedly balked at the idea of paying off porn star Stormy Daniels prior to the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in October 2016.
- That could hurt his argument that the payment was made to prevent Trump’s family from embarrassment and not to assist his presidential campaign.
President Donald Trump’s former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen reportedly balked at the idea of paying off porn star Stormy Daniels prior to the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in October 2016 – and that could cut through Cohen and Trump’s central argument for how that payment did not constitute a campaign-finance violation.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Cohen initially didn’t see a reason to make the payment to Daniels, who alleges she had a 2006 affair with the president, an allegation Trump denies. But after the “Access Hollywood” tape, where Trump boasts of being able to grab women by the genitals without consequence, was made public, Cohen changed his mind.
The Journal reported that just a day after that recording surfaced, Cohen contacted a Daniels representative to say he was open to such a deal, according to a person familiar with the conversation, who said Cohen did not want to make the payment when the idea was first floated in September 2016.
Daniels inked a $130,000 nondisclosure agreement that prohibited her from speaking publicly about her allegation. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is now suing Cohen and Trump in California to void that deal.
Cohen is now the focus of a criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York into whether he violated campaign-finance laws, committed bank fraud or wire fraud, engaged in illegal lobbying, or participated in other crimes. The FBI raided Cohen’s home, hotel room, and office in April, seizing more than four million documents from Trump’s longtime lawyer.
At the center of the investigation is that payment to Daniels, as the FBI sought documents related to that payment and other similar arrangements with other women.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, accused Cohen or his side of being The Journal’s source for the story and attacked the lawyer’s credibility.
“I can’t keep track of Michael’s stories but if you believe him I have a beautiful bridge in lower Manhattan to sell you,” Giuliani told Business Insider in a text message.
A representative for Lanny Davis, one of Cohen’s attorneys, said he could not comment “on advice of outside counsel since there is an ongoing investigation.”
Prosecutors probing Cohen view the “Access Hollywood” tape as crucial to their investigation into whether campaign-finance laws were violated, people familiar with the investigation told The Journal. If the tape triggered Cohen to make the deal with Daniels, it could lessen Cohen and Trump’s ability to argue it was not an in-kind contribution to Trump’s campaign that should have been disclosed.
Prosecutors would need to prove that the hush-money payment to Daniels, which far exceeded the maximum allowed individual donation was made to assist Trump in getting elected, and not to keep embarrassing information from becoming known to his family, in order to file a campaign-finance charge.
Cohen and Giuliani have both previously insisted that the payment was made to prevent the president’s family, particularly his wife Melania Trump, from embarrassment, and not to boost his campaign. But if Cohen decided to make the payment only after the “Access Hollywood” tape was revealed, and Trump faced immediate damage in the polls, that argument could be more difficult to make.