President Donald Trump legal situation in the Stormy Daniels scandal went from bad to worse thanks to the bombshell dropped Wednesday night by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who now serves on the president’s legal team.
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Trump reimbursed his attorney the $130,000 he paid to the porn star, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, the ex-mayor revealed on the Fox News show Hannity. Before Giuliani’s statement, legal experts said it was difficult to prove that the president had any knowledge of possible hush money payments that could have violated campaign finance laws.
The president’s payments appear to have been a contribution to is own campaign, which would violate campaign finance laws because the Trump campaign failed to disclose it, Charles Tiefer, a former general counsel for the House of Representatives, told Forbes.
“Now, it looks like an intentional evasion of the laws meant to require such disclosures,” Tiefer added.
California’s Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, tweeted that Giuliani exposed Trump to four possible felonies:
On Thursday, President Trump, apparently oblivious to his legal troubles, backed Giuliani’s revelation. He tweeted that the reimbursement for a nondisclosure agreement with Daniels about their alleged affair was appropriate, but he denied that the money came from campaign funds.
Daniels has sued the president to void the nondisclosure agreement arranged by his attorney Michael Cohen, alleging that it is invalid because Trump never signed it. She called it a “hush” money agreement to silence before Election Day.
Giuliani’s goal in revealing Trump’s payments was to argue that the president didn’t violate campaign finance laws, he told the New York Times. In doing that, however, the former mayor contradicted the president’s previous denial that he knew nothing about the hush money. It also contradicted Cohen’s statements that the money came out of his own pocket.
At issue in all of this is the source and intent of the $130,000 payment. The problem is that the payment appears to have been used to prevent harm, through negative media stories, to the Trump campaign. That raises legal issues about violations of campaign financing limits.
Giuliani’s statement and Trump’s confirmation appear to take Cohen off the hook. The lawyer would have violated campaign contribution limits if he paid Daniels from his own pocket.
If Trump reimbursed Cohen, as Giuliani said he did, it could be construed as the president funneling money to his lawyer to aid his campaign—even if the money didn’t come directly from his campaign funds.
That suggests that Trump’s payment was intended to influence the election, Paul S. Ryan of the government watchdog group Common Cause said, according to the Times. The campaign failed to disclose the payment, as required by law.
“Until tonight, it would have been tough to prove that because Donald Trump had denied knowing about the payment,” he explained. “But his reimbursement amounts to knowledge.”
The timing of the reimbursement, which came days before Election Day, is also a problem for Trump. If Trump’s payment was personal, there would be no campaign finance violation, election law expert Richard Hansen told the Associated Press. But Giuliani’s argument that the payment was personal seems “pretty far-fetched” because of the timing.
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