Emmet Flood, the newest addition to the White House legal team, got some surprising news this week on the day his hire was announced, courtesy of another recent addition to Team Trump, Rudy Giuliani.
Neither White House counsel Donald McGahn nor Emmet Flood, the White House attorney recently hired to handle the Russia investigation, knew that Trump had reimbursed [Michael] Cohen before Giuliani revealed it.
But that’s not the only thing they didn’t know about the imbroglio surrounding the $130,000 hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels. Neither McGahn nor Flood, who is reportedly McGahn’s handpicked successor, nor anyone other than Giuliani and maybe—maybe—Trump knew what was to unfold on Fox & Friends Wednesday night.
Welcome to the fold, Flood. Giuliani is on your side, in case you were wondering.
And yeah, he should be left to wonder about that. Besides not consulting the other lawyers on the team, the political shop, or planning a media strategy to contain the bombshell admission that Trump paid a porn star $130,000 to shut her up about their affair, Giuliani appeared to have masterfully identified some of the biggest legal icebergs facing Trump before accelerating straight toward them.
But before we review the G-money quotes from Uncle Rudy, let’s remember that Giuliani’s Friday clarification does little-to-nothing to help his client out of the legal quagmire he’s now in. As former FBI Assistant Director Frank Figliuzzi explained on MSNBC Friday, Giuliani’s conflicting statements now make him a “fact witness” in the case.
“Now I want to bring in Rudy and I want to sit him down and I want to say, ‘What was your understanding that caused you to say all this to Sean Hannity, who made you correct yourself and what part of that is the truth?’” Figliuzzi said on Deadline. “As an investigator, you’re loving this. You want it to keep playing out, you hope everybody is on TV all day and you’re taking their statements and you’re applying it to the law.”
Now let’s take a quick tour of the statements Giuliani will likely soon be explaining to investigators.
“He fired [James] Comey because Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn’t a target of the investigation,” the former New York mayor, who recently joined Trump’s legal team, told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “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.’”
Oh, so Trump didn’t like the way the guy who was investigating his campaign was conducting that investigation so he got rid of him? Thanks for clearing up the motive. Per Trump, Comey’s firing was due to “this Russia thing” and, per Giuliani, it was even more specifically because Comey wouldn’t publicly clear Trump’s name in the “Russia thing.” If the special counsel’s obstruction case needed bolstering for any reason, Giuliani just gave it an exclamation point. In fact, former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade thinks Trump’s initial act of asking in the first place was problematic.
“I think even asking him to publicly exonerate him does interfere with the investigation and could constitute obstruction of justice,” McQuade said.
Campaign contribution or personal expenditure?
In a Fox & Friends follow up on Thursday morning (cuz once is never enough!), Giuliani made extra clear why paying off Daniels was of the essence.
“Imagine if that came out on Oct. 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton,” Giuliani said.
As the lawyers say, res ipsa loquitur, “the thing speaks for itself,” and I mean that literally rather than as a matter of law.
This is one of the major blunders Giuliani tried to “clarify” Friday when he issued a statement saying, “The payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the President’s family.”
But Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti killed that spin Thursday night before Rudy G ever even got out the gate.
“I have the documents. I have the evidence in my possession on the communication with Michael Cohen and [Daniels’] previous attorney that the case had to be resolved fast so that it didn’t hurt Trump’s chances on Election Day.”
Reimbursement or fraud?
Giuliani had a lot to say with multiple outlets about the payment scheme set up between Cohen and Trump. On Wednesday night, he kicked it all off in part with this:
GIULIANI: That money was not campaign money. Sorry, I’m giving you a fact now that you don’t know. It’s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation. So —
HANNITY: They funneled it through a law firm?
GIULIANI: Funneled it through a law firm and the president repaid it.
HANNITY: Oh. I didn’t know. He did?
Did you say, “funneled” and “repaid”? Oh, to quote Hannity. Those words are simply the beginning of the problem. Regardless of whether this ends up being a campaign finance violation (and there’s plenty to suggest it could), Giuliani gave federal investigators a window into Cohen’s and Trump’s transactions.
In terms of numbers, Giuliani told the Washington Post that Cohen was repaid in increments of $35,000/month, “probably starting in January or February” of 2017. In total, Giuliani also said Trump paid Cohen $460,000 and $470,000, which he referred to as “a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes.” Wow, that’s quite a “profit” on $130K, even with “a little margin” for taxes. Rolling Stone dubbed the discrepancy “the $340,000 question.”
But Uncle Rudy may have lowballed it. On Friday night, the Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen secured access to as much as $774,000 in order to make problems for his boss “go away,” as Giuliani put it. And if there’s more where that came from, federal investigators will find it.
Whatever Trump repaid Cohen is a problem for Trump because his public financial disclosure form last year didn’t disclose any debts owed to Cohen, a violation of the Ethics in Government Act.
As Avenatti has repeatedly pointed out, if this was all above board, why set up a structured scheme that included incremental payments and an LLC in Delaware, among other things?
But bottom line, the spin doesn’t matter to the legal case, even it might be muddying the waters in the public realm. Facts are facts, and investigators will find them. Giuliani gave them a trail of bread crumbs to follow and then put himself at their disposal to help them finish the job. Whatever attorney-client privilege he could claim with Trump may have gone straight out the window when he started blabbing to cable TV about their conversations.
And let’s not sign off without a shout out to Fox News, which racked up yet another explosive interview for a second week in a row. The friendlier the interviewer the better, apparently—Trump and his coterie just love to sing when they think they’re preaching to the choir.