Donald Trump’s new lawyer Rudy Giuliani took to Sean Hannity’s Fox News program Wednesday night to defend the president from the ongoing Mueller investigation and to calm the waters for the Trump faithful. But it looks like he’s gotten the president into potentially greater legal jeopardy by admitting that Trump repaid his fixer Michael Cohen for the $130,000 payment to adult film performer Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet, seemingly contradicting the president and potentially implicating Trump and his campaign in some serious campaign finance violations. Just to review where we are so far. It is undisputed that Trump’s sometimes-attorney and fixer Michael Cohen negotiated an agreement with Daniels shortly before the 2016 election to get her not to discuss an alleged sexual encounter with Trump in exchange for $130,000. Cohen eventually said that he paid that money out of his own pocket, and he secured a loan to do so. He said that neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign reimbursed him (he did not say that he was not reimbursed at all, leaving open the possibility of a Trump reimbursement). The president told reporters he had known nothing about the payment.
With that state of affairs, Cohen looked like he could be in legal trouble, because someone cannot make a $130,000 in-kind contribution to a federal campaign. The big question before tonight was whether the payment was campaign related. If it was wholly personal, as in made to help Trump’s marriage but not his campaign, then Cohen would be off the hook.
The case drew parallels to John Edwards’ trial for accepting similar in-kind contributions. DOJ could not get a conviction, likely because there was no smoking gun evidence indicating that payments to Edwards’ mistress were campaign related and not aimed at saving his marriage.