Analysts: Giuliani's media blitz gives investigators new leads, new evidence
May 3 at 7:44 PM Email the author
Rudolph W. Giulianiâs media blitz to convince the public that neither Donald Trump nor his lawyer had violated the law by paying a porn star to keep quiet about an alleged affair might have backfired, giving investigators new leads to chase and new evidence of potential crimes, legal analysts said.
Giuliani made statements that speak to Trump and lawyer Michael Cohenâs intent â" an important aspect of some crimes â" and he made assertions that investigators can now check against what they have already learned from documents and witnesses, legal analysts said. His comments to media outlets underscore a growing tension for the White House: The FBI investigation of Cohen presents a legal problem for the president that his own lawyer might have exacerbated.
âIâm sure his strategy was damage control,â said Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches at the University of Michigan, âbut Iâm not sure he controlled much.â
[Giuliani: Trump repaid attorney Cohen for Stormy Daniels settlement]
Starting with a Fox News appearance on Wednesday night, Giuliani, who joined Trumpâs legal team just a few weeks ago, seemed to be trying to play down Cohenâs $130,000 payment in October 2016 to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and President Trumpâs reimbursement of his longtime lawyer. He might have been trying to get ahead of investigators in making public facts they already know, though legal analysts said his statements could reinforce any case they might bring.
Giuliani first contradicted Trumpâs assertion last month that he was unaware of the payment to Daniels, then offered details of which federal investigators are sure to take note. He mused on âFox & Friends,â for example, about what might have happened to Trumpâs campaign had Daniels made her all egation on the eve of the election.
âImagine if that came out on Oct. 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton,â Giuliani said. âCohen didnât even ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.â
That comment is important because it suggests Cohen made the payment with the intention of protecting the Trump campaign. In that case, the payment would constitute a campaign contribution or loan â" rather than a personal expense. Such a contribution would have to be reported publicly, and the amount would have far exceeded the legal limit of $2,700 that Cohen could have given.
Matthew Sanderson, who served as a campaign finance lawyer for the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign, said the timing of the payment âstrongly suggests it was related to the election, and therefore is either a contribution, or at least a reportable expenditure by the campaign.â
But Charlie Spies, who served as counsel for Mitt Romneyâs 2008 president ial campaign, said Giulianiâs comments must be weighed against Trumpâs history of aggressively protecting his corporate and personal reputation.
âRemember, at this time, people didnât expect him to win, so his business and personal reputation were much more important,â Spies said.
Trump himself asserted Thursday on Twitter that Cohen âreceived a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaignâ and that he used that retainer to pay Daniels.
Campaign finance violations can be difficult to prove. Federal prosecutors failed in their effort to convict former North Carolina senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards of accepting illegal campaign contributions for payments made to a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair and fathered a child.
Giuliani also revealed what legal analysts say might be tantalizing leads for investigators, who already were exploring Cohenâs business practices and whether any crimes may have been committed as part of a pattern or strategy of paying hush money to keep damaging stories about Trump from appearing when he was a candidate, according to people familiar with the matter.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Giuliani said that Trump paid Cohen $35,000 a month as a retainer and that âthere probably were other things of a personal nature that Michael took care of, for which the president would have always trusted him as his lawyer, as my clients do with me. And that was paid back out of the rest of the money. And Michael earned a fee out of it.â He declined to specify what those things might be.
[Transcript: Giuliani interview with The Washington Post]
âI think they were all certainly much less significant than the $130,000,â Giuliani said. âIâd be surprised if they made up even an appreciable portion of the amount.â
In addition to discussing the payment to Daniels, Giuliani asserted that Trump fired James B. Comey as FBI director because Comey would not reveal publicly that the president was not under investigation. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey.
âI think even asking him to publicly exonerate him does interfere with the investigation and could constitute obstruction of justice,â McQuade said.
Giuliani said the president paid Cohen $35,000 monthly for a period of time in 2017. Precisely when the payments started and stopped is unclear; at one point, Giuliani indicated there could have been payments in 2018. He also said the Daniels settlement was covered by those payments.
Investigators are likely to ask witnesses about the topic and compare what Giuliani said publicly about Trumpâs arrangement with Cohen with what people have told them in the past, McQuade said. Lying to federal investigators is a crime, though lying on TV is not.
McQuade said investiga tors are also likely to explore moneyÂlaundering issues, though legal analysts said that, by themselves, Giulianiâs comments did not present clear evidence on that front.
For prosecutors to charge someone with money laundering, the money at issue has to come from a crime, and paying someone to keep quiet does not qualify. It is possible, though, that the money should have been reported on a financial disclosure. Norm Eisen, chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said his group had filed a complaint saying Trump should have reported it.
âItâs not strictly criminal money laundering unless the underlying money is proceeds of another crime, and I donât think we have any indication that thatâs the case,â said former federal prosecutor Randall Eliason.
[Inside Giulianiâs explosive Stormy Daniels revelation]
The growing legal questions around Cohenâs services for Trump come as the lawyer faces a grand jury investigation being led by federal prosecutors in New York City who are exploring bank fraud, wire fraud or campaign finance charges, according to people familiar with the matter who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
That case, according to officials, stems from a referral made by Mueller but has functioned as a stand-alone case in New York for months. Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election, as well as whether the president obstructed justice.
Trumpâs and Cohenâs lawyers believe the New York investigation is largely aimed at pressuring Cohen to cooperate with the special counsel team, according to several people familiar with their discussions. They believe investigators want to push him to reveal his conversations with Trump amid Russian efforts to help his campaign.
The Manhattan prosecutorsâ search warrant for Cohenâs home and o ffice â" which FBI agents executed on April 9 â" specifically sought communications between Cohen and Trump. The agents seized boxes of papers and more than a dozen digital devices. Those electronic and paper documents are now being reviewed by a court-appointed special master to determine what material is protected by attorney-client privilege and what is eligible to become part of the criminal investigation of Cohen. That process is expected to take weeks.
Two lead prosecutors handling the case â" Thomas McKay and Nicolas Roos â" are part of the public corruption unit of the U.S. Attorneyâs Office in Manhattan and prosecute public officials and people engaged in conspiracy or fraud against the government. Trump advocates argue the corruption unit wouldnât be involved unless their work was steering toward the president.
âThis is about trying to get the president,â said one person familiar with the Trump lawyersâ discussions.
A spokesman for the s pecial counselâs office declined to comment.
Former federal prosecutor Jonathan Biran, who is now in private practice at Rifkin Weiner Livingston, said it is possible that investigators already know what Giuliani revealed publicly Wednesday and that his TV appearances were merely an attempt at âtrying to get out in front of it.â
Giuliani and Stephen Ryan, who is Cohenâs lawyer, have known for weeks of Trumpâs reimbursing Cohen, but even people who were close to Trump were stunned by the news that Giuliani divulged late Wednesday evening.
âI think there are two issues â" there are the legal issues, and then the political side of it,â Biran said. âReasonable minds can differ about whether politically itâs a good tactic to reveal this information in the way he did. .â.â. I think that Muellerâs going to find out what the facts are, so that makes me think he was more worried about the political calculus.â
McQuade said Giuliani âs TV interviews might have been an effort to speak to Cohen and to reassure him that the White House still has his back. âMaybe the strategy there is to try to calm him down so heâs not tempted to cooperate,â she said.
After all, legal analysts said, charging Trumpâs lawyer with a campaign finance or bank fraud violation seems far less weighty than Muellerâs pursuit of potential campaign coordination with Russia.
âI feel like a few months from now, campaign finance violations are going to be the least of these guysâ worries,â Eliason said.
Robert Costa contributed to this report.Source: Google News | Netizen 24 United States