WASHINGTON — President Trump knew about a six-figure payment that Michael D. 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 in April, according to two people familiar with the arrangement.
How much Mr. Trump knew about the payment to Stephanie Clifford, the actress, and who else was aware of it have been at the center of a swirling controversy for the past 48 hours touched off by a television interview with Rudolph W. 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 learned of the payment, which Mr. Cohen made in October 2016, at a time when news 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 that 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 nondisclosure 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 nondisclosure agreement was created to prevent any embarrassment to his family.
Mr. Giuliani said this week that the reimbursement to Mr. Cohen totaled $460,000 or $470,000, leaving it unclear what else the payments were for beyond the $130,000 that went to Ms. Clifford. One of the people familiar with the arrangement said that it was a $420,000 total over 12 months.
Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, has known since last year the details of how Mr. Cohen was being reimbursed, which was mainly through payments of $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 Organization said people with the company were aware that Mr. Cohen was still doing “legal work” for the president in 2017, but declined to say more about what Mr. Weisselberg knew. Another person familiar with the situation said that Mr. Weisselberg did not know that Mr. Cohen had paid Ms. Clifford when the retainer payments went through.
If Mr. Weisselberg was involved in directing the use of the funds to silence Ms. Clifford, it 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 interviews on Wednesday and Thursday, Mr. Giuliani insisted that the president had reimbursed Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 hush payment — and then paid him another $330,000, if not more — which was in direct conflict with the longstanding assertion by Mr. Trump and the White House that he did not know about the hush money or where it came from.
In an interview with The New York Times on Friday, Mr. Giuliani sought to clarify his statements by saying that he did not know whether Mr. Trump had known that some of the payments to Mr. Cohen had gone to Ms. Clifford. “It’s not something I’m aware of, nor is it relevant to what I’m doing, the legal part,” Mr. Giuliani said.
A lawyer for the Trump Organization declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for the organization did not respond to an email about Mr. Weisselberg.
The president has said that he would view any investigation into his finances or those of his family as “a violation,” though he was referring to the investigation into Russia by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III; the investigation into Mr. Cohen is being run by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.