Squaring the facts, and calling b.s. on Trump’s ghosted tweet…
In Drain the Swamp or Pad the Reptile Fund? (April 9), I offered what I thought to be the most likely explanation for Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels a few days before the 2016 presidential election.
I suggested that Cohen had standing orders from Trump to pay off women who might blackmail Trump or write “true confession” stories for the media, and that Cohen had access to a general purpose fund — sometimes called a “slush fund” or “reptile fund” — from which to make such payments. If the fund ran dry, Cohen knew it would be refilled or “padded” later. He fully expected reimbursement.
A key point in my theory was that Cohen’s witting role was to be the cutout man, so that Trump himself would not know the details of such settlement(s) involving payment, and could therefore maintain plausible deniability when grilled by reporters.
I included video and analysis of Trump’s answers (and non-answers) to reporter Catherine Lucey aboard Air Force One on April 5. There, Trump seems eager to issue vocal denials that he knew anything about the payment to Daniels, but suddenly clams up when Lucey asks if he ever set up a fund which Cohen could draw from. (That last bit is important, but is usually not played.)
Appearing on Fox News on May 2 and May 3, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani has now largely confirmed this theory. Like most spinners for Trump, Giuliani is discursive. He nevertheless claimed or implied:
– That Trump only learned the specifics of the payment to Daniels quite recently.
– That the payment to Daniels was “funneled” by Trump to Cohen through Cohen’s law firm.
– That Trump paid Cohen a “retainer” of approximately $35,000 a month to take care of matters like “some Stormy Daniels woman” and not bother him about the details, just as Giuliani would do for his clients (who are “busy people”).
– That the $130,000 payment to Daniels was covered by this monthly “retainer.”
– That the payment had nothing to do with politics or the election, but was rather a personal payment by Trump to Daniels to help save his marriage.
– That Trump paid Daniels this large sum despite her claim of a sexual affair being false and extortionate.
– That no campaign funds were expended, and no campaign finance laws were criminally violated.
– That at worst reading, Donald Trump simply failed to report this contribution made from his own pocket, funneled through Cohen as part of a standing arrangement.
– That Trump spent $100 million of his own money on the campaign, compared to which the $130,000 payment to Daniels is insignificant.
– That such a failure to report is not usually treated as a criminal matter, and should not have resulted in “storm troopers” “breaking down” Cohen’s door.
Overall, Giuliani’s statements conform to the general theory of a slush fund from which Cohen could draw, giving Trump plausible deniability about payments made. Quite a few of Giuliani’s claims nevertheless remain suspect. For example:
– A general retainer doesn’t usually cover specific large settlements.
– In aboveboard operations, the client isn’t intentionally kept in the dark about settlements reached and large payments made by his attorney.
– Giuliani is invoking the “John Edwards defense”: that Trump paid off Daniels a few days before the election for personal (rather than political) reasons. This defense worked for Edwards, but may not work for Trump.
A rather pressing question is: Why did Trump and Giuliani decide that at this juncture in time it’s better for Trump to be seen as an outright liar than to continue to deny making the payment to Daniels? The volte-face is, after all, one of the most difficult public relations maneuvers to pull off. (Fox News tastefully avoided showing Giuliani’s feet. Was he wearing flip-flops? Regardless, this stinks to high heaven.)
The most likely explanation is that the court-authorized raid by the FBI on Cohen’s various premises turned up hard evidence that Trump was funneling money to Cohen to facilitate the Daniels payoff, so the previous claim that Cohen had “gone rogue” was no longer even vaguely tenable.
This is only speculation on the part of this lowly blogger, based on reading news accounts and listening to statements made by the various protagonists. But if you read my post of April 9, you’ll see I pretty much nailed it.
Sidebar: Trump tweet seems to have been ghosted
If you know Trump’s bombastic, emotional (not to say illogical) style, you may seriously question whether this 3-part tweet dated May 3 was really written by Trump, or by one of his attorneys:
The complex sentence structure, legalese, lack of typos (bar one), and correct use of capitalization all point to a ghost writer with experience drafting legal briefs. (Maybe we should call him “Little Docket Man.”)
I suppose some bright young thing could write a Twitter app that would mangle an otherwise cogent statement, turning it into a Trump tweet, adding elements of mania and illiteracy, and pasting NO COLLUSION! NO COLLUSION! NO COLLUSION! in appropriate (or inappropriate) places. Ain’t science wonnerful?
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
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