White House Says Trump 'Eventually Learned' of Cohen Reimbursement for Stormy Payoff

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WASHINGTON -- "The first awareness I had was during the interview last night," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today of Rudy Giuliani's revelation on Hannity that President Trump repaid attorney Michael Cohen for the pre-election payoff to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels.

Nearly a month ago aboard Air Force One, Trump was asked if he knew about the $130,000 payment, which Cohen said he made out of his own pocket with a home equity line of credit. "No," Trump replied.

"Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?" Trump was asked. "No, I don't know," the president replied. "No."

Giuliani told Fox host Sean Hannity on Wednesday night's show that the payoff to Daniels was not campaign money but "funneled through a law firm, and the president repaid it."

"Everybody was nervous about this from the very beginning. I wasn't. I knew how much money Donald Trump put into that campaign, and I said, '$130,000? He could do a couple of checks for $130,000,'" the former New York mayor continued. "When I heard of Cohen's retainer for $130,000, he was doing no work for the president. I said, 'Well, that's how he's repaying it, with a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes for Michael.'"

"He didn't know about the specifics of it, as far as I know. But he did know about the general arrangement, that Michael would take care of things like this. Like, I take care of this with my clients. I don't burden them with every single thing that comes along. These are busy people."

Giuliani, who recently joined Trump's legal team, told the Washington Post that the president "was well aware that at some point when I saw the opportunity, I was going to get this over with" and get the story out in the open.

Giuliani this morning suggested a campaign-related motive for the payment to Daniels: "Imagine that came out on Oct. 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton," he said of the affair.

Sanders told reporters during the White House press briefing that "this was information the president didn't know at the time but eventually learned."

Asked how people can trust statements from the president and White House given how they change, Sanders replied, "We give the very best information that we have at the time. I do that every single day and will continue to do that every day I'm in this position."

Common Cause Vice President for Policy and Litigation Paul S. Ryan argued in a statement today that Giuliani "seemingly thought he was doing President Trump a favor—but instead made Trump’s legal problems much, much worse."

Common Cause filed complaints with the Department of Justice and Federal Election Commission in January, alleging that the Trump campaign violated campaign finance law disclosure requirements by failing to disclose Cohen’s payment to Daniels as a campaign expenditure.

"Giuliani’s admission that Trump reimbursed Cohen amounts to an admission that Trump actually knew about the payment," Ryan said. "In other words, Trump’s own lawyer has now handed the DOJ evidence that President Trump committed criminal violations of federal law."

Asked if Giuliani was opening up the president up to possible penalties for violation of campaign law, Sanders replied, "I haven't discussed that with the president. I wouldn't be part of those conversations."

George Conway, a former attorney for Paula Jones and husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, tweeted the Federal Election Commission rule on personal gifts and loans: "If any person, including a relative or friend of the candidate, gives or loans the candidate money 'for the purpose of influencing any election for federal office,' the funds are not considered personal funds of the candidate even if they are given to the candidate directly. Instead, the gift or loan is considered a contribution from the donor to the campaign, subject to the per-election limit and reportable by the campaign. This is true even if the candidate uses the funds for personal living expenses while campaigning."

Giuliani also said in the Hannity interview that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey "because Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn't a target of the investigation."

Trump told NBC's Lester Holt soon after Comey's dismissal that he was thinking of "this Russia thing" when canning the FBI director; the White House had previously said it was because of how Comey handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

Sanders said today "there're a number of reasons that James Comey was fired," but "the bottom line is he doesn't have to justify his decision -- the president has the authority to fire and hire."

Giuliani called FBI agents who raided Cohen's office "stormtroopers," prompting a Twitter retort from Comey.

"I know the New York FBI. There are no 'stormtroopers' there; just a group of people devoted to the rule of law and the truth," Comey said. "Our country would be better off if our leaders tried to be like them, rather than comparing them to Nazis."