Trump Admits To Authorizing Stormy Daniels Payoff, Denies Sexual Encounter

Updated at 11:22 a.m. ET

President Trump admitted Thursday to reimbursing his lawyer for a $130,000 payment made on the eve of the 2016 election to adult film star Stormy Daniels as part of a settlement agreement about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

Trump, however, denied any sexual encounter and claims the payment was in no way connected with the campaign — despite the timing.

That admission directly contradicts what the president told reporters less than a month ago. Trump denied knowledge of the payments, telling reporters on Air Force One, “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael.”

Asked if he knew where the money came from to pay Daniels (whose given name is Stephanie Clifford), the president said flatly, “No. I don’t.”

It was unclear when Trump was made aware of the payment or began repaying Cohen, an attorney and business partner of Trump’s. Cohen has asserted that Trump had no knowledge of the payment, which was made through a shell corporation.

But the admission could land Trump in potentially varying degrees of legal trouble, from a felony campaign-finance violation to filing a knowingly false financial disclosure, something that carries up to a $50,000 fine and a year in prison or more.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one Trump’s outside lawyers, contended in television and print interviews Wednesday night and Thursday morning that there were no campaign-finance violations, because this was a personal matter carried out to protect the family — not to influence the campaign.

“Just trust me, they’re going to find no violations here,” Giuliani said Wednesday night on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox. (Hannity was revealed in federal court to also be a client of Cohen’s.)

But then Giuliani said this: “Imagine if that came out on Oct. 15 in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton,” Giuliani said on Fox. “Cohen didn’t even ask. He made it go away. He did his job.”

That’s important, because if the payoff money was for the purpose of influencing the campaign, then it would still have to be reported as a contribution to the campaign.

The payment has drawn complaints to the Federal Election Commission that it was an undisclosed contribution to Trump’s campaign. The amount far exceeds the maximum donation one person could make to a campaign.

It would have to be determined if this payment was, in fact, for the purpose of influencing the campaign, but if it is determined that it was, watchdog groups point out, it could open up Trump to a possible felony for “knowingly and willfully” causing his campaign to file an incomplete or false report.

In a string of tweets, Walter Shaub, the former ethics chief of the Office of Government Ethics, points out that “in trying to talk his way out of a campaign finance violation, Trump has admitted to filing a false financial disclosure in 2017.”

On Wednesday night, Giuliani said Trump “didn’t know the specifics of it [the payment to Daniels], but he did know the general arrangement. That was money that was paid by his lawyer, the way I would do, out of his law firm funds, or whatever funds, doesn’t matter. The president reimbursed that over a period of several months.”

Cohen said he used a home equity loan in order to pay off Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford. He said he was not reimbursed for making that payment. Daniels says that Cohen was acting on behalf of Trump to keep her quiet to avoid a scandal and that he had her sign an agreement not to talk about her relationship with Trump.

Daniels is suing to escape that agreement.

Cohen says he will invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself and will not testify as part of that lawsuit because he is the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation.

Cohen was recently the target of multiple search warrants by federal investigators in New York.

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