The amount paid to porn actor Stephanie Clifford (Stormy Daniels) for her silence about an alleged sexual encounter in 2006 between her and him has been reimbursed to lawyer Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump has said.
In a series of three posts on Twitter on Thursday morning, Mr. Trump gave out his version of the controversy for the first time since it erupted in January. His responses earlier had been limited to denying knowledge of the transaction when it took place in October 2016, weeks before the presidential election.
Disclosure by Giuliani
Prior to Mr. Trump’s posts, one of his advisers, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, disclosed on Fox News that $1,30,000 that Mr. Cohen paid Ms. Daniels has been reimbursed.
Mr. Cohen, an attorney for Mr. Trump, has all along maintained that he paid hush money to Ms. Daniels without Mr. Trump’s knowledge and he had not been reimbursed by either the Trump campaign or the Trump Organisation, leaving the possibility of Mr. Trump personally having reimbursed him.
Other associates of Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen have denied reimbursement by anyone. Even after the latest revelations, it remains unclear how and when was Mr. Cohen reimbursed.
Statements by Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump appear to shield the latter from accusations of campaign finance law violations.
“Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA,” Mr. Trump said.
“These agreements are... very common among celebrities and people of wealth. In this case, it is in full force and effect and will be used in Arbitration for damages against Ms. Clifford (Daniels). The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair... 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,” the President said, echoing Mr. Giuliani’s statement the previous night.
Michael Avenatti, a lawyer representing Stormy Daniels in an ongoing lawsuit against Mr. Cohen, said it was difficult to fully comprehend the meaning of the statement, but it would be opening new questions for the President.
Critics of Mr. Trump have raised questions of campaign finance law violations in the hush agreement.
If Mr. Cohen had paid his personal money to buy the silence of the porn actor at a crucial juncture in the campaign, that amounted to an undisclosed campaign contribution far exceeding the individual cap of $2,700, according to one argument that is being litigated.
While the new disclosure that Mr. Trump reimbursed Mr. Cohen from his personal funds may quell this argument, it may open questions for the President and his legal team.
“Two months ago, we requested the Department of Justice and Office of Government Ethics to investigate whether Trump violated the law by not disclosing the Stormy Daniels payment as one he intended to reimburse. Looks like we were on the right track,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a civil society organisation, said in a post on Twitter. “This opens the Pandora’s box into serious, serious issues for Donald Trump,” Mr. Avenatti, Ms. Daniels’s lawyer, said.