The new twist in the saga of Donald Trump’s alleged affair with pornographic actress Stormy Daniels is that Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, has issued a statement confirming that he was involved in a $130,000 payment to Daniels—which was reportedly made in return for her participation in a non-disclosure agreement—in late 2016:
“In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford. Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly. The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”
As you can see, Cohen’s reason for announcing the payment’s private nature seems to have been to emphasize that it was not connected to or motivated by the 2016 election, which would have made it subject to campaign-finance laws that would have required him to disclose it at the time and could have meant, depending on who ultimately financed it, that it exceeded contribution limits. Cohen told the New York Times that he gave a similar account to the Federal Election Commission, which was investigating the issue in response to a watchdog group’s inquiry, and he presumably decided to make his defense public because the FEC would have done so soon anyway.
The Daniels payment was the subject of a previous campaign-finance mini-controversy in January when, soon after the first report about the $130,000 agreement appeared in the Wall Street Journal, a partisan (Democratic) legal group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) noted that the Trump campaign reported making a payment of $130,888.33 in December 2016. This, the implication went, could have been part of a scheme to surreptitiously funnel campaign cash to Daniels. Other observers quickly noted, though, that the payment was listed on an FEC report as rent paid to a Trump Organization entity called Trump Tower Commercial LLC and therefore could have been a perfectly legal reimbursement for the use of office space, one that only coincidentally happened to be for the same amount paid to Daniels. Indeed, as the Washington Post documented, sizable payments marked “rent” were made to Trump Tower Commercial LLC in the months before and after December 2016, though no other “rent” payments were for $130,000 specifically.
There’s one catch, though: While rent is typically paid monthly, the Trump campaign, according to its FEC reports, made 14 rent payments in 2016. The dates of those payments:
And here’s how the payments continued into 2017:
In other words, there seems to be an extra payment in 2016 even if you make the not-unreasonable assumption that the first payment listed (on Jan. 4, 2016) might have been made to cover the previous month. Now, to get into the weeds, it’s possible that on June 9, 2016, the Trump campaign switched things up and started paying rent for the current month rather than the preceding one—then, on Oct. 31, switched up again and started paying rent for the upcoming month. If you follow that out, though, it would mean that by the time of the April 26, 2017 payment the campaign was paying rent for June, i.e. more than a month in advance. While we can’t rule out this ad hoc in-flux accounting explanation—neither the White House nor the Trump campaign responded to inquiries about the issue—it is at the very least an eyebrow-raising coincidence that the Trump campaign made 14 rent payments to the Trump Organization in one calendar year, and that one of them, for $130,000, was made on the heels of a $130,000 hush-money payment “facilitated” by the Trump Organization’s special counsel.
Cohen’s statement says explicitly that he was not directly or indirectly reimbursed for the payment by the Trump campaign. But there are some loopholes in there, particularly the word facilitated. Maybe he used his own money to “facilitate” a payment by someone else, and the campaign later paid that person back. Who knows? As I’ve said in the past in regards to other inadequate Trump administration explanations for strange behavior, the only thing we can be sure of is that we’ll either find out the full story soon, at some point in the distant future, or never.