Two Theories On What Rudy Giuliani Said Last Night…

In case you missed it, President Trump’s new personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani went on Sean Hannity’s show last night and did what seems to be the unthinkable – he admitted that Trump paid his lawyer Michael Cohen back that $130,000 Cohen paid to Stormy Daniels in hush money before the 2016 election.

Giuliani is saying since no campaign money paid Cohen it can’t be a campaign violation, which isn’t an ironclad statement. That $130,000 was hush money paid to somebody who presumably could make damaging statements on the eve of an election – the source of the hush money wouldn’t seem to matter quite so much as the fact it was paid with respect to whether this was a transgression against the campaign finance laws.

But that’s a legal argument there are differing sides to.

Our initial take on this is Rudy Giuliani has become Kevin Spacey’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross, the sales manager who says the wrong thing at the wrong time to salesman Al Pacino’s customer and blows a major sale, earning him a monstrous rant from the outraged Pacino for the slip of his tongue. We don’t see how it’s a good idea to voluntarily connect that $130,000 back to Trump.

All Giuliani needed to say was Cohen was Trump’s lawyer, he’s paid a retainer like lots of lawyers are, and it’s nobody’s business how much that retainer might be. And if Cohen was paid $130,000 over a certain period of time then so be it – over the course of the past several years Cohen was paid a lot more than that, and Trump probably envisions paying him even more in the future because he’s his lawyer, and he’s going to get paid, and that’s all there is to it. And that neither Cohen nor Stormy Daniels got paid out of campaign funds.

And both politically and legally it’s a mistake to say any more than that. To do what Giuliani did is essentially to do a Kevin Spacey and say “Oh, no. Your check went to the bank.”

But here’s another possible explanation, courtesy of Jazz Shaw at Hot Air…

The second, and far more likely explanation is that Giuliani talked it over with Trump and they decided to take a proverbial shot to the leg now to avoid one to the chest later. So how would that work?

Odds are that they’re assuming (or have confirmed) that Cohen is talking to the feds to save his own skin and is giving them all the details of the transaction with the stripper. And there’s going to be a paper trail if that sort of money is changing hands, so lying about it under oath would be a disaster. Cohen had previously stated in public that he used his own money to pay off Daniels and Trump didn’t know about it, but Giuliani was very specific with the details, even providing the amount of money provided in installments to reimburse Cohen. There’s little doubt that Cohen has already provided that detail to the feds.

Rudy also appeared to leave some wiggle room in terms of how the payments were described. As completely unlikely as it sounds, if there were some ledger entries for unspecified “legal services” going to Cohen, he’s leaving Trump room to say, hey. I have a lot of lawyers and they send me bills all the time. But even if he can’t pull that one off, Trump never testified about the stripper payment under oath so all they can do is say he lied to the press. Yes, that looks bad in the short term, but it’s still one heck of a lot better than being in court later for perjury.

Shaw quotes a Slate piece by Richard L. Hasen which concedes the campaign finance violation is anything but a slam dunk…

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.

And Trump took to Twitter essentially validating the second theory…

So given that Gallup has his approval rating at an 11-month high and he’s got good news breaking out on the Korean peninsula, and he can crow about the economy, and the polls are showing the Democrats’ Blue Wave isn’t what they’ve advertised it to be, maybe Team Trump figures now is the time to just take a beating on the Stormy Daniels business and get it over with before the midterms, while rescuing Cohen from an uncertain legal fate.

Maybe that’s it. Nobody really believed the story that Cohen coughed up that 130K out of the kindness of his heart or a sincere desire to avoid marital strife within the Trump household, and so dumping it overboard and getting Cohen out of the crosshairs is the way to go.

After all, there is no way on earth the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York is going to indict Donald Trump for campaign finance violations over that $130,000. No way. To do so would be one of the most egregious bits of prosecutorial overreach in world history, and it would surely backfire against the Democrats whether they recognize it now or not.

As to the political effect of this, that’s less simple to diagnose. At some point the Stormy Daniels thing becomes a bridge too far, though Trump’s personal virtue has never been a particular selling point for GOP base voters. What folks really don’t like is to find out they’ve been lied to, and Trump apparently lied about the Daniels business.

And this will absolutely not go away, because the Democrats will seize on it. Maybe they’ll do so incompetently and push it as a justification for that Blue Wave leading to an impeachment – it would surprise us to see the public reward that message on Election Day.

One way or another, we’ll just be glad if we could be finished with Stormy Daniels at long last. Enough already.

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