Rudolph W. Giuliani’s media blitz to convince the public that neither Donald Trump nor his lawyer had violated the law by paying a porn star to keep quiet about an alleged affair might have backfired, giving investigators new leads to chase and new evidence of potential crimes, legal analysts said.
Giuliani made statements that speak to Trump and lawyer Michael Cohen’s intent — an important aspect of some crimes — and he made assertions that investigators can now check against what they have already learned from documents and witnesses, legal analysts said. His comments to media outlets underscore a growing tension for the White House: The FBI investigation of Cohen presents a legal problem for the president that his own lawyer might have exacerbated.
“I’m sure his strategy was damage control,” said Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches at the University of Michigan, “but I’m not sure he controlled much.”
Starting with a Fox News appearance on Wednesday night, Giuliani, whojoined Trump’s legal team just a few weeks ago, seemed to be trying to play down Cohen’s $130,000 payment in October 2016 to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and President Trump’s reimbursement of his longtime lawyer. He might have been trying to get ahead of investigators in making public facts they already know, though legal analysts said his statements could reinforce any case they might bring.
Giuliani first contradicted Trump’s assertion last month that he was unaware of the payment to Daniels, then offered details of which federal investigators are sure to take note. He mused on “Fox & Friends,” for example, about what might have happened to Trump’s campaign had Daniels made her allegation on the eve of the election.
“Imagine if that came out on Oct. 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton,” Giuliani said. “Cohen didn’t even ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.”
That comment is important because it suggests Cohen made the payment with the intention of protecting the Trump campaign. In that case, the payment would constitute a campaign contribution or loan — rather than a personal expense. Such a contribution would have to be reported publicly, and the amount would have far exceeded the legal limit of $2,700 that Cohen could have given.
Matthew Sanderson, who served as a campaign finance lawyer for the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign, said the timing of the payment “strongly suggests it was related to the election, and therefore is either a contribution, or at least a reportable expenditure by the campaign.”
But Charlie Spies, who served as counsel for Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, said Giuliani’s comments must be weighed against Trump’s history of aggressively protecting his corporate and personal reputation.
“Remember, at this time, people didn’t expect him to win, so his business and personal reputation were much more important,” Spies said.