Photo via Gage Skidmore
Attorney and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani joined Donald Trump’s legal team this week, and immediately dug the embattled president deeper into controversy.
In a series of interviews with various Fox News personalities starting Wednesday, Giuliani reversed Trump’s stance on alleged payments to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels.
On Thursday, Giuliani told “Fox and Friends” that Trump had “definitely reimbursed” former lawyer and personal confidant Michael Cohen for $130,000 in payments made to Clifford. After the alleged 2016 affair and subsequent cover-up were first reported in January of this year, Cohen told reporters and Clifford’s lawyers that he had made the payments out of his own pocket, and hadn’t informed Trump about the money or been paid back by the president.
Compounding Giuliani’s contradiction, Trump took to Twitter on Thursday to confirm his knowledge of the 2016 payments, effectively confirming his earlier denials as bold-faced lies.
“These agreements are very common among celebrities and people of wealth,” Trump wrote in the middle of Thursday’s tweet storm. “In this case it is in full force and effect and will be used in arbitration for damages against Ms. Clifford (Daniels). The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair.”
According to the New York Times, Giuliani attempted to use his Fox News appearances to clear up any allegations that Clifford’s payments had violated campaign finance law. But while Trump has never wavered in denying the alleged affair, the constantly shifting story around the payment has cast even more doubt on the president’s claims.
Clifford is currently suing both President Trump and Michael Cohen for defamation of character and to be released from the 2016 nondisclosure agreement she says Trump never signed.
Outside of the Stormy Daniels controversy, Giuliani’s first week as the latest member of Trump’s rotating legal team was largely focused on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s seemingly never-ending investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
With several Trump administration officials already pleading guilty to lying during the ongoing probe, Mueller recently released a set of questions he hopes to ask the president, including inquiries about the firing of former FBI director James Comey, his relationship with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and his opinions of whether law enforcement agencies should be able to investigate presidential wrongdoing
After examining Mueller’s proposed line of questioning last month, former Trump attorney John Dowd instructed the president that it would be in his best interest to avoid the special counsel’s queries. But, as is his habit, the president didn’t listen to his legal advisors, and instead took to social media, insisting that he meet with Mueller to set the record straight. Dowd resigned last month, citing Trump’s decision to ignore his advice.
In Dowd’s place, Giuliani has said that he would be okay with Trump speaking to Mueller, but ideally for less than two and a half hours and not under oath. It’s not exactly clear where the proposed time limit emerged from, but in the very same interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Giuliani said that he could use Trump’s expected meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to postpone Mueller’s questioning further.
“Two and a half hours. We end. Walk out. Give us your questions in advance,” Giuliani told Hannity. “I’d want it…not videotaped but audiotaped. I’d want to make sure they didn’t misrepresent his answers.”
He added: “I could not go to the President of the United States and say take two days off to get ready [for a prosecutorial interview] and screw the whole thing with North Korea. How can any American do that?”
It’s unclear if Giuliani’s press tour will continue through the weekend, and if so what other new information he might reveal, but either way, the former NYC mayor’s first few days under Trump’s legal umbrella have been anything but boring.