Trump 'knew about payment to porn star before denial'

Mr Rudy Giuliani with Mr Donald Trump and his wife at a dinner in October 2016. Mr Giuliani sparked controversy last week when he said that Mr Trump had reimbursed Mr Michael Cohen for the payments to Ms Stephanie Clifford. PHOTO: NYTIMES

He had known about six-figure payment for months, say people familiar with arrangement

WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump knew about a six-figure payment that Mr Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer, made to a pornographic film actress several months before he denied any knowledge of it to reporters aboard Air Force One last month, according to people familiar with the arrangement.

How much Mr Trump knew about the payment to actress Stephanie Clifford and who else was aware of it have been at the centre of a swirling controversy for the past 48 hours, touched off by a television interview with Mr Rudy Giuliani, a new addition to the President's legal team.

The interview was the first time a lawyer for the President had acknowledged that Mr Trump had reimbursed Mr Cohen for the payments to Ms Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels. It was not immediately clear when Mr Trump learnt of the payment to Ms Clifford, which Mr Cohen made in October 2016, at a time when media outlets were poised to pay her for her story about an alleged affair with Mr Trump in 2006.

But three people close to the matter said Mr Trump knew that Mr Cohen had succeeded in keeping the allegations from becoming public at the time the President denied it.

Ms Clifford signed a non-disclosure agreement, and accepted the payment just days before Mr Trump won the 2016 presidential election. Mr Trump has denied he had an affair with Ms Clifford and insisted that the non-disclosure agreement was created to prevent any embarrassment to his family.

Mr Giuliani said last week that the reimbursement to Mr Cohen totalled US$460,000 or US$470,000 (S$613,000 or S$626,000), leaving it unclear what else the payments were for, beyond the US$130,000 that went to Ms Clifford.

One of the people familiar with the arrangement said that it was a total of US$420,000 over 12 months.

Mr Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of the Trump Organisation, has known since last year the details of how Mr Cohen was being reimbursed, which was mainly through payments of US$35,000 per month from the trust that contains the President's personal fortune, according to two people with knowledge of the arrangement.

One person close to the Trump Organisation said people with the company were aware that Mr Cohen was still doing "legal work" for the President last year, but another person familiar with the situation said Mr Weisselberg did not know Mr Cohen had paid Ms Clifford when the agreement was struck and when the payments went through.

Mr Weisselberg's knowledge of the retainer agreement could draw Mr Trump's company deeper into the federal investigation of Mr Cohen's activities, increasing the President's legal exposure in a wide-ranging case involving the lawyer often described as the President's "fixer" in New York City.

In remarks to reporters last Friday, Mr Trump criticised Mr Giuliani and said he would eventually "get his facts straight", though he did not specify which statements by Mr Giuliani - who joined the President's legal team on April 19 - he was referring to.

"Virtually everything said has been said incorrectly, and it's been said wrong, or it's been covered wrong by the press," Mr Trump told reporters, though he excused Mr Giuliani by explaining that he had "just started a day ago".

In a written statement later in the day, Mr Giuliani said that he had not been "describing my understanding of the President's knowledge". Mr Giuliani also reversed a previous suggestion that the payment to Ms Clifford was motivated by the election.

He said that the payment was personal in nature and "would have been done in any event, whether he (Mr Trump) was a candidate or not".

Mr Giuliani said that he had "confused" the two factors, but that it was irrelevant since Mr Trump had repaid Mr Cohen.

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 06, 2018, with the headline 'Trump 'knew about payment to porn star before denial''. Print Edition | Subscribe