Trump admits to reimbursing Stormy Daniels money, but ‘not from campaign’

US President Donald Trump has said reimbursement to his personal lawyer for hush money paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels was done through a monthly retainer and "had nothing to do with the campaign".

Key points:

  • Trump said money paid to his lawyer Michael Cohen was a monthly retainer
  • He said the payment was "to stop a false and extortionist accusation" of an affair
  • Mr Trump previously said he didn't know about the $US130,000 payment to Ms Daniels

On Twitter, Mr Trump said his personal attorney Michael Cohen received a monthly retainer "from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA."

He added that the agreement "was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair".

External Link: …despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair. Prior to its violation by Ms. Clifford and her attorney, this was a private agreement. Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll in this transaction.

Mr Trump's tweets outlining the arrangement came after Rudy Giuliani, one of his attorneys, said on Wednesday Mr Trump reimbursed Mr Cohen for $130,000 in hush money to Ms Daniels days before the 2016 presidential election, appearing to contradict the President's past claims that he didn't know the source of the money.

During an appearance on Fox News Channel's Hannity, Mr Giuliani said the money to repay Mr Cohen had been "funnelled … through the law firm and the President repaid it."

Asked if Mr Trump knew about the arrangement, Mr Giuliani said: "He didn't know about the specifics of it, as far as I know. But he did know about the general arrangement, that Michael would take care of things like this, like I take care of things like this for my clients. I don't burden them with every single thing that comes along. These are busy people."

New York's former mayor Rudy Giuliani joined Donald Trump's legal team last month. (Photo: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

The comments appeared to contradict statements made by Mr Trump several weeks ago, when he said he didn't know about the payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels as part of a nondisclosure agreement she signed days before the presidential election.

Mr Giuliani later suggested to The Wall Street Journal that while Mr Trump had repaid the $130,000, Mr Cohen had settled the payment to Ms Daniels without Mr Trump's knowledge at the time.

Undisclosed loan or reimbursement

But outside experts said it raised a number of questions, including whether the money represented repayment of an undisclosed loan or could be seen as reimbursement for a campaign expenditure.

Asked aboard Air Force One last month whether he knew about the payment, Mr Trump said flatly: "No.

Mr Trump also said he didn't know why Mr Cohen had made the payment or where he got the money.

In a phone interview with Fox and Friends last week, however, Mr Trump appeared to muddy the waters, saying that Mr Cohen represented him in the "crazy Stormy Daniels deal."

Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, arrives for the 49th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

The White House referred questions to the president's personal legal team.

Mr Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and ex-US attorney who joined Mr Trump's legal team last month, said the president had repaid Mr Cohen over several months, indicating the payments continued through at least the presidential transition, if not into his presidency.

He also said the payment "is going to turn out to be perfectly legal" because "that money was not campaign money".

No debt to Mr Cohen is listed on Mr Trump's personal financial disclosure form, which was certified on June 16, 2017.

Mr Giuliani also described the payment to Ms Daniels as "a very regular thing for lawyers to do".

Ms Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, called the comment "a stunning revelation".

"Mr Trump evidently has participated in a felony and there must be serious consequences for his conduct and his lies and deception to the American people," he said.

Hannity also Cohen's client

Mr Giuliani made the statements to Fox host Sean Hannity, who has his own connection to the case.

It was recently revealed in court that Mr Hannity is one of Mr Cohen's clients.

Mr Hannity has described his personal dealings with Mr Cohen as centred on real estate advice and said that it "never rose to any level that I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions".

Ms Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, says she had a sexual encounter with Mr Trump in 2006, months after his third wife gave birth to his youngest child, and was paid to keep quiet as part of a nondisclosure agreement she is now seeking to invalidate.

Sketch of man who allegedly threatened Stormy Daniels.

She has also filed a defamation suit against Mr Trump after he questioned a composite sketch she released of a man she says threatened her to stay quiet.

External Link: Tweet Donald Trump sketch

The White House has said Mr Trump denies having a relationship with Ms Daniels.

Mr Cohen had said previously: "Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly."

He notably did not include the President personally.

Asked about Mr Cohen's denial, Mr Giuliani said that he didn't know whether Mr Cohen had made the payment without asking Mr Trump but that he had "no reason to dispute that".

The revelation from Mr Giuliani came as Mr Cohen was under escalating legal pressure.

He is facing a criminal investigation in New York, and FBI agents raided his home and office several weeks ago seeking records about the nondisclosure agreement.

Ms Daniels' lawsuit over the hush deal has been delayed, with the judge citing the criminal investigation.

'It implicates the President directly'

The payment to Ms Daniels has raised numerous legal questions, including whether it was an illegal campaign contribution and, now, a loan.

"If this is true then it looks like Cohen may have made an unreported loan to the campaign rather than a contribution," said Richard L Hasen, an expert in election law at the University of California, Irvine.

He said that might be better for Mr Cohen, but not for Mr Trump, because it undermines the argument that Mr Cohen was acting independently.

"The greatest significance is that it implicates the President directly," he said.

Law firms advance expenses for clients as a matter of course, and so there's nothing inherently improper about a lawyer covering a particular payment and then being reimbursed for it.

In this case, though, the client who apparently reimbursed the expense was running for president and the money was paid just days before the election, raising questions about whether Mr Cohen's law practice was functioning as a vendor for the campaign and whether the expense was therefore an unreported campaign expenditure.

If so, that could be legally problematic.

Andrew Herman, an attorney specializing in campaign finance law at Miller & Chevalier, said Mr Giuliani's argument that this was a private payment unrelated to the campaign appears to be "pretty far-fetched" given the timing — weeks before the election while Mr Trump was under fire for his behaviour with women and for an "Access Hollywood" tape in which he spoke of groping women without their consent.

But if Mr Cohen or Mr Trump could establish that discussions with Ms Daniels over the payment long predated his run for office, that could help them with the argument that the money was a personal rather than political expense.

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