Giuliani's explanation of payments could be legal and political threat for Trump


Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's remarks raised questions about the US President Donald Trump's truthfulness and created a firestorm at the White House.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's remarks raised questions about the US President Donald Trump's truthfulness and created a firestorm at the White House.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - US President Donald Trump's new legal team made a chaotic debut as Rudy Giuliani, who was tapped recently to be one of the president's lawyers, potentially exposed his client to legal and political danger by publicly revealing the existence of secret payments to Michael Cohen, the president's personal lawyer.

After he moved into the White House, the president began paying Cohen US$35,000 (S$46,500) a month, Giuliani said, in part as reimbursement for a US$130,000 payment that Cohen made to a pornographic film actress to keep her from going public about an affair she said she had with Trump.

The president confirmed he made payments to Cohen in a series of Twitter posts on Thursday.

The explosive revelation, which Giuliani said was intended to prove that Trump and Cohen violated no campaign finance laws, prompted frustration and disbelief among the president's other legal and political advisers, some of whom said they feared the gambit could backfire.

Legally, the failure to disclose the payments could be a violation of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, which requires that federal officials report any liabilities of more than US$10,000 during the preceding year. Trump's last disclosure report, which he signed and filed in June, mentions no debt to Cohen.

Politically, Giuliani's remarks - made in television appearances and interviews - raised questions about the president's truthfulness and created a firestorm at the White House, where aides were caught off guard and furiously sought to deflect questions they could not answer.

Giuliani did not consult every member of the president's legal team, or the network of lawyers around Washington whose clients have been entangled in Trump's legal disputes, according to several people close to the team.

 
 
 

Emmet Flood, a lawyer hired by Trump on Wednesday, was not involved in Giuliani's plans to reveal the payments to Cohen during an interview with Sean Hannity on his Fox News program, one person said.

Giuliani recognised the situation was problematic, two people close to him said, because Trump had previously said on Air Force One that he was unaware of the hush payments to Stephanie Clifford, the actress who performs as Stormy Daniels.

Even some of the president's own advisers said they were skeptical of Giuliani's statements that Cohen entered into a settlement, made payments to a pornographic film actress and was reimbursed by the president all without Trump's knowing why.