POLITICS

Trump's Evolving Story On Hush Money Paid To Stormy Daniels And Karen McDougal

The president claims he did nothing illegal even as his former attorney Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison over campaign finance violations.

First, he claimed to know nothing about it. Then, he said he did ― kind of.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump once again added to his nebulous story about hush money paid to two women before the 2016 presidential election. 

Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, says she had an affair with Trump in 2006. Because her story had the power to damage Trump’s campaign, longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen gave her $130,000 to keep quiet, according to federal prosecutors.

That sum far exceeded the legal limit for campaign contributions in a general election, which is $2,700.

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday after pleading guilty to violating campaign finance law through payments to Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who received $150,000.

Cohen’s loyalty was put to the test throughout the investigation and court proceedings. Unfortunately for Trump, it failed. Cohen said that he acted on Trump’s orders, potentially implicating the president in felony charges.

Here’s a look at how Trump has responded throughout the ordeal. 

January: Trump’s team wholly denies the hush-money allegations after a Wall Street Journal report

The paper reported on Jan. 12 that Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 in exchange for the porn actress’ silence about the alleged affair. At the time, the Journal wrote that Trump may not have known about the payment.

Trump didn’t respond directly. Cohen immediately denied the whole thing, defending Trump and calling the accusations “outlandish.” He was still serving as the president’s personal attorney at the time.

An unnamed White House official told The Wall Street Journal that the accusations were merely “old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election,” referring to an earlier story in the paper about the $150,000 payment to McDougal. The paper reported that American Media Incorporated, which publishes the National Enquirer, bought McDougal’s story about Trump in order to prevent its release. (Cohen later admitted to being involved in that deal, which prosecutors say violated rules on corporate campaign donations.)

February: Cohen admits the Daniels payment happened but says Trump didn’t know about it

Cohen told The New York Times in a Feb. 13 report that he paid the $130,000 to Daniels out of his own pocket. He denied that it was in violation of campaign finance law.

Cohen also said no one at the Trump Organization reimbursed him, “either directly or indirectly.”

March: The White House again denies that Trump knew about the hush money

Trump has “denied all these allegations,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said March 7 after Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, said he believed Trump knew about the payment.

Avenatti appeared on the “Today” show after Daniels filed a lawsuit challenging a non-disclosure agreement about the alleged affair.

Days later, Cohen reiterated his claim that he paid Daniels with his own money.

Also March: Trump appears to deny the accusations in a tweet

Following a widely viewed “60 Minutes” interview with Daniels, the president complained about the news media on Twitter.

“So much Fake News. Never been more voluminous or more inaccurate,” Trump wrote the morning after the interview aired, on March 26.

April: Trump flat-out denies knowing about the Daniels payment 

Trump responded to reporters’ direct questions on April 5 about whether he knew about the $130,000 payment.

“No, no,” he said on Air Force One.

Asked if he knew where the money came from, Trump also answered that he did not. Asked why the payment was made, he said, “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen.”

Also April: Trump apparently seeks to distance himself from Cohen in a bonkers “Fox & Friends” interview

Although Trump initially defended Cohen when the FBI raided his home and office April 9, in the days and weeks ahead he began to step back.

Trump told “Fox & Friends” on April 26 that Cohen only represented him in “a tiny, tiny little fraction” fraction of his legal work, but admitted the attorney had “represented me in this crazy Stormy Daniels deal.”

 Trump also said Cohen did “absolutely nothing wrong.”

“There was no campaign funds going into this, which would have been a problem,” he said in a lengthy tirade on his favorite morning program.

May: Rudy Giuliani contradicts the president, says Trump reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 payment and knew about the ‘general arrangement’

Giuliani, a former New York City mayor who joined Trump’s personal defense team, said in a May 2 Fox News interview that the president knew about the “general arrangement, that Michael would take care of things like this.”

Trump repaid Cohen for paying off Daniels, Giuliani said.

“It’s going to turn out to be perfectly legal. That money was not campaign money,” Giuliani said, adding that the money was returned in installments.

Trump backed Giuliani up in a series of tweets soon afterward, reiterating the claim that the $130,000 was not campaign money. 

Also May: The White House says Trump didn’t know about the Daniels payment at the time, but learned about it ‘eventually’

Sanders told reporters on May 3 that Trump “didn’t know at the time” that Cohen had paid off Daniels.

Trump “eventually learned” about the payment, Sanders said, smoothing over Giuliani’s shocking comments.

The president himself tried to amend Giuliani’s comments by saying his newest attorney didn’t have all the facts straight because he’d just started the job.

July: CNN releases a secret recording in which Trump and Cohen appear to discuss the payment to McDougal

Lanny Davis, an attorney for Cohen, told CNN that Trump can be heard on the tape suggesting a cash payment to McDougal.

“I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David,” Cohen says in the recording. AMI CEO David Pecker is friends with Trump.

Cohen made the recording in secret, as he was known to do with clients. He previously claimed that he never recorded Trump, who was rather upset by the recording.

August: Cohen says Trump ordered him to pay off both Daniels and McDougal

The attorney pleaded guilty on Aug. 21 to two counts of campaign finance violations in a suit brought by prosecutors in New York. In court filings, he said he acted on Trump’s orders, implicating the president in the violations. 

“If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” the president wrote in an Aug. 22 tweet.

Also August: Trump again says that he only found out about the payments after Cohen made them, insists he didn’t violate any laws

Trump told “Fox & Friends” on Aug. 22 that the payments were legal because the money had not come from the campaign, even though it was used to help the campaign and thus likely in violation of campaign finance law.

“Did they come out of the campaign? They didn’t come out of the campaign, they came from me,” Trump said.

He also claimed that he only found out about the payments Cohen had made “later on.” 

October: Trump unfollows Cohen on Twitter

December: Trump indicates he was involved with the payments but ‘never directed Michael Cohen to break the law’

Cohen received a three-year sentence for violating campaign law and other federal charges on Dec. 12. He reportedly said that “time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up [Trump’s] dirty deeds.”

“I take full responsibility for each act that I pled guilty to: the personal ones to me and those involving the president of the United States of America,” Cohen reportedly told the judge.

Trump appeared to suggest he was involved with the payments to Daniels and McDougal but placed all blame for any illegal activity squarely on Cohen’s shoulders

“I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law,” Trump said in a Dec. 13 tweet. “He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law.”

Trump added: “That is why they get paid.”

In an interview with Fox News the same day, Trump expanded on his thoughts about Cohen and the payments.

“They put those charges on to embarrass me,” Trump said of the two campaign finance violation charges to which Cohen pleaded guilty. He then falsely claimed the charges are not “criminal.”

The president also questioned whether his team followed through on the payment to AMI for McDougal’s story rights, as federal prosecutors allege. “I don’t even think we made a payment to that tabloid,” he said.

Regarding Cohen, Trump continued to shirk any responsibility. “He did some bad things unrelated to me,” the president said.

CONVERSATIONS