Donald Trump’s Stormy Daniels scandal broke in earnest back in January 2018. The Wall Street Journal reported at the time on Michael Cohen paying the porn star $130,000 in hush money, and in exchange, Daniels agreed not to discuss her alleged extramarital affair with Trump.
And for quite a while, the president got away with responding to the story with total silence, refraining from even tweeting on the subject. Nearly three months later, however, Trump was chatting briefly with reporters on Air Force One, at which point he addressed the controversy publicly for the first time.
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.
We’ve known for a while that the president was brazenly lying when he made these comments, but yesterday’s sworn testimony from Michael Cohen brought Trump’s deception into sharper focus.
Indeed, Trump’s former fixer brought with him a copy of a check, signed by the president in August 2017, to help reimburse Cohen for the same payment that Trump pretended to know nothing about.
As Aaron Rupar explained, yesterday’s House Oversight Committee hearing shed new light on the details of what transpired, including an alleged conversation in which Trump spoke to Cohen in February 2018 about concocting a false cover story to explain away the hush money and the reimbursement.
But let’s also not forget that Cohen wasn’t the only one whom Trump encouraged to lie.
Remember this story from August 2018?
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday it was “ridiculous” to accuse President Trump of lying after he reversed course on whether he knew about a $130,000 payment by his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to adult-film star Stormy Daniels in the days before the 2016 election.
“I think that’s a ridiculous accusation,” Sanders said when asked whether the president had lied to the American people. “The president in this matter has done nothing wrong, and there are no charges against him.”
As it turns out, it’s not so “ridiculous” after all. Trump really did lie – shamelessly and without reservations – about his role in an illegal scheme in which he’s been named as effectively an unindicted co-conspirator. He had months to come up with an answer to questions about the controversy, and the best he could do was deceive.
The Huffington Post published a helpful timeline two months ago, noting several instances in which White House officials defended Trump and insisted the allegations were false, including multiple comments from the president’s press secretary.
For what it’s worth, it seems quite likely that Sarah Huckabee Sanders isn’t fully to blame for the instances in which she passed along false information. Indeed, it’s easy to believe she was misled and believed her own rhetoric at the time.
But that only adds to the broader significance of the story: the American president conspired to cover up a crime, and White House officials were caught up in the scheme.
The White House generally doesn’t hold regular press briefings anymore, but if Sarah Huckabee Sanders was willing to speak to reporters again, I’d be interested to know who gave her the false information she shared, and who, if anyone, directed her to say things that weren’t true.