White House press secretary Sarah Sanders sought to defend President Donald Trump's credibility - and her own - during a lively press briefing Thursday. Trump is responding to an interview that his new lawyer Rudy Giuliani gave to Fox News last night. "Knowing and willful" violations of campaign rules - deliberately ignoring the law, which is what a prosecutor could argue Trump and Cohen did - are prosecutable as criminal offenses.
For the federal election law's contribution and disclosure provisions not to apply to these transactions, they can not be "in connection with an election". "But if it's willful, if it's intentional, it can be handled criminally".
Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti reacted swiftly to the revelation, calling out the USA president over his "lies".
It was instantly news; Trump had previously said he did not know that Cohen paid Daniels not to talk about an affair with Trump that she alleges and he denies. "If they were deducted as legal expenses for tax purposes when in reality it had nothing to do with legal services rendered, but instead was the reimbursement of the $130,000, that too is going to be a problem", he said. One White House aide said Giuliani's interview "stunned and shocked" communications staff, most of whom, like Sanders, weren't expecting it. I mean, I am, like in the cosmic sense, "surprised", to find myself living in a world where the president's personal attorney appears to be no better than a mafia henchman. And the way Giuliani announced details - on live television and imprecisely -raised fresh worries about the president's uneven legal team.
To find a violation of federal election laws, he said, the commissioners need strong evidence that keeping the Daniels' story from voters "was the motivation" for the payment, "not a motivation".
"According to Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen were co-conspirators in a felony", said Avenatti, as quoted by the Washington Post.
Tyler Harber, who managed a congressional campaign in 2012, received a two-year prison sentence for illegally coordinating $325,000 of independent expenditures on behalf of his candidate.
Giuliani told host Sean Hannity, unprompted, that Cohen's payment was "perfectly legal", "not campaign money", and "the president repaid it". A wiretap on a lawyer is when you already know what's going on, you can convince other people of your theory, and you're just trying to nail the guy. "I don't remember it clearly either", Giuliani said, according to The Wall Street Journal. "The money wasn't paid to help the campaign or hurt the campaign".
But minutes later on Fox & Friends, Giuliani appeared to contradict Trump by directly linking the payoff to the election's outcome.
Another reporter asked the president: "Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?" "You're dealing with a defendant that's very undisciplined, can be easily baited into making mistakes, and I think we've been very, very successful in doing just that. Now they should drop this".
Once on board, Giuliani spent days reading and being briefed about the many issues facing Trump, including the Cohen case and the payments made by Cohen to Daniels. Trump also said he didn't know why Cohen had made the payment or where he got the money.
Is Rudy Giuliani a master strategist, or a loose cannon whose seemingly undisciplined defense of Donald Trump may place the president in deeper legal jeopardy?
If Trump was upset with his lawyer's performance, he did not show it.
Asked by reporters on Air Force One earlier this month about the deal, Trump said: "You'll have to ask Michael Cohen". That has stirred accusations that Cohen's payment to the porn actress amounted to an illegal campaign contribution.