Since Donald Trump’s Stormy Daniels scandal broke, the president has said literally nothing about the controversy. Not in a tweet. Not in a Fox News appearance. Total silence.
Yesterday, however, Trump chatted briefly with reporters on Air Force One, and whether he intended to or not, the president made some news.
Q: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
TRUMP: No. No. What else?
Q: Then why did Michael Cohen make those if there was no truth to her allegations?
TRUMP: Well, you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. And you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen.
Q: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?
TRUMP: No, I don’t know. No.
And why is this important? A couple of reasons, actually.
First, Trump’s latest version of events – he didn’t know about the hush-money payment and has no idea where the $130,000 came from – seems to contradict what we learned last month. The Wall Street Journal reported in early March that Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, missed some payment deadlines in the fall of 2016 because “he couldn’t reach Mr. Trump in the hectic final days of the presidential campaign.” The same article added that Cohen “complained to friends that he had yet to be reimbursed for the payment” to the adult-film actress.
In other words, Cohen reportedly implicated the president in the pre-election scheme to pay hush money to one of his alleged mistresses before she undermined his candidacy. In that version of events, Trump was not only aware of the payment, his lawyer expected to be repaid the $130,000.
Yesterday, however, Trump said largely the opposite. Which leads us to the second reason why this is important – and why Stormy Daniels’ lawyer seems so pleased.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is currently suing Trump in the hopes of breaking her non-disclosure agreement. Her lawyer has argued that the president never signed the NDA, and as such, it should be deemed invalid.
As the New York Times reported, Trump’s public comments “could create a predicament” for his defense: “Ms. Clifford’s case is based on the notion that the confidentiality agreement is invalid because Mr. Trump was not a party to it. By saying he was not aware of the agreement, Mr. Trump appeared to confirm that argument, which would mean neither party is legally bound by it, thus potentially paving the way for Ms. Clifford to break her silence without consequences.”
Or as Slate put it, responding to the president’s comments, Trump “basically just said he should lose the litigation with Stormy Daniels.”