In early May, Rudy Giuliani insisted that Donald Trump’s pre-election payoff to Stormy Daniels wasn’t legally problematic because no campaign funds were used to finance the hush-money. This didn’t make any sense, and the argument from the president’s lawyer was plainly at odds with basic details of campaign-finance law.Nearly four months later, Trump World hasn’t learned much about the subject. The president sat down earlier today with Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt, who asked if Trump knew about the Daniels payments. He responded:
“Later on, I knew, later on. But you have to understand, Ainsely, what he did – and they weren’t taken out of campaign finance. That’s a big thing. That’s a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They didn’t come out of the campaign. It came from me.
“And I tweeted about it. You know, I put, I don’t know if you, but I tweeted about the payments. But they didn’t come out of campaign.
“In fact, my first question, when I heard about it, was, ‘Did they come out of the campaign?’ Because that could be a little dicey. And they didn’t come out of the campaign. And that’s big.
“But they weren’t, it’s not even a campaign violation. If you look at President Obama, he had a massive campaign violation, but he had a different attorney general and they viewed it a lot differently.”
This might seem like a transcription error, since Trump repeated many of the same words and phrases – note the use of the word “campaign” eight times in 40 seconds – but this was his actual answer, word for word.
Much of the president’s response was plainly nonsense, but for now, let’s put aside the oddity of him seeming to blame Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his troubles, and Trump’s bizarre confusion about the Obama campaign’s campaign-finance missteps in 2008.
Instead let’s focus on how incriminating the president’s on-camera comments were.
First, Trump told reporters on camera in April that he didn’t know about the payment to Stormy Daniels. Today he said largely the opposite, which raises the question of why he found it necessary to lie four months ago.
Second, asked about the payments to the women, Trump said he learned about them “later on.” That also appears to be a lie: we’ve all heard the recording of then-candidate Trump talking about the Karen McDougal payoff in September 2016.
But the key phase in the excerpt of today’s interview was Trump, in the context of explaining where the hush-money came from, conceding, “It came from me.”
The president has a habit of volunteering incriminating information for no apparent reason. It happened last year when he told NBC News’ Lester Holt that he fired former FBI Director James Comey over the investigation into the Russia scandal; it happened again last week when Trump contradicted the White House line on why he revoked former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance; and it arguably happened again in today’s interview.
Trump is convinced the core question is whether campaign funds were used to finance the payoff. But that’s wrong. The controversy is about whether Trump made an undisclosed payment to an alleged former mistress in order to affect the outcome of the campaign.
The whole point – what makes this a scandal – is that Trump and his lawyer conspired to execute their scheme in secret, circumventing the law. The president and his “fixer” made a campaign-related expenditure from a non-campaign account, outside of campaign-finance laws.
Because Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he thinks he’s making things better for himself by saying he paid the hush-money instead of using campaign funds. What the president doesn’t understand is that this makes things worse.