The Trump Man is hoppin’ mad at someone who has previously done a pretty good job of keeping her name out of White House drama, CNN reports:
Here’s what Sanders said about the subject at Wednesday’s press conference:
Q : Did the President approve of the payment that was made in October of 2016 by his longtime lawyer and advisor, Michael Cohen?
SANDERS: Look, the President has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already been won in arbitration. And anything beyond that, I would refer you to the President’s outside counsel.
Q: When did the President address, specifically, the cash payment that was made in October of 2016 to —
SANDERS: The President has denied the allegations against him. And, again, this case has already been won in arbitration. Anything beyond that, I would refer you to outside counsel.
Q: But did he know about that payment at the time, though?
SANDERS: Jeff, I’ve addressed this as far as I can go.
Q: I’m not talking about the actual allegations, but about the payment. Did he know about the payment at the time?
SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of.
There are a few problems with what Sanders said—factually, strategically, and legally.
1. According to NBC’s reporting, at least, the president has not won any arbitration against Daniels. What appears to have happened, rather, is that Trump’s lawyer (Michael Cohen) succeeded in late February in getting in a California arbitrator to issue a temporary restraining order that prohibits Daniels from talking about her alleged 2006-era affair with Trump publicly. (That affair, it must always be noted, allegedly involved a tryst during Shark Week.) The order explicitly says it’s being issued pending further arbitration related to the 2016 agreement that Cohen arranged with Daniels—the one that paid her $130,000 in exchange for her silence. (It’s not yet publicly known what the subject of this underlying arbitration is, but it seems likely that it involves Daniels’ claim, made formally in a separate lawsuit filed this week, that the 2016 agreement has been rendered invalid.)
2. The White House had previously been disciplined in dodging specific questions about Trump and Daniels except to say that he denies having an extramarital affair. Now the press secretary is on the record acknowledging that the two are involved in a legal feud. While the president’s approval rating is generally Teflon-coated when it comes to personal behavior, we also know from prior experience that seeing news reports about his antagonists—especially lady antagonists—tends to get his goat. (Not to mention that reporting about a president’s alleged infidelity is probably particularly disruptive in a White House in which his daughter and son-in-law hold top jobs.) Sanders’ acknowledgement, as the “steroids” line in CNN’s report notes, has already triggered more such coverage.
3. Daniels is suing to have the 2016 agreement invalidated because Trump didn’t sign it. Sanders’ suggestion that Trump wasn’t even aware of the agreement, as attorney Scott Pilutik noted Wednesday in Slate, would seem to give Daniels’ legal team more ammunition to push for an invalidation. (You can read the original settlement here because it was included in Daniels’ new lawsuit. It lists Trump, under an alias, as a party to the contract and includes “agreements, warranties, and representations” that he is obligated to make under its terms—something that it seemingly would be tough for him to do if he wasn’t aware of them in the first place.)
Sometimes it seems like Shark Week will never end, doesn’t it?
Update, 12:35 p.m.: I should have also included another Sanders answer, made later in the press conference, which was even more explicit about denying that Trump knew about the 2016 payment agreement. “I’ve had conversations with the President about this,” she said. “And, as I outlined earlier, that this case has already been won in arbitration and that there was no knowledge of any payments from the President, and he’s denied all of these allegations.” (If you’re wondering if it’s technically possible that Trump knew about the 2016 agreement but not the payment, the agreement does make explicit that Daniels is to be paid $130,000 for her participation in it. So it doesn’t seem like there’s wiggle room there.)