I’ve heard from a lot of people this morning claiming that Rudy’s revelation last night was all by design, and a logical new legal strategy at that. Not likely.
I think it’s quite possible that it was the President’s legal team’s plan to eventually claim Cohen had in some way been reimbursed for paying $130,000 to Stormy Daniels. But it’s clear to me that Giuliani did not plan to do it this way or do this at all. For starters, it does not put his client in a better legal position. If anything it takes a possible FEC violation by Michael Cohen and creates a false report violation by Donald Trump. It also throws into question whether Cohen was actually performing legal duties at all (nominal attorney fees are now described as loan repayments and not for legal work). Most directly, it makes a number of previous claims by Trump and Cohen into lies.
My best guess is that Guiliani and Trump and other members of the legal team had discussed this story (true or not) as a way to escape a claimed FEC violation. They did so with what appears to have been a fairly limited understanding of campaign finance law. But they thought it was a good idea. Giuliani then meandered his way into floating it during his interview with Sean Hannity. Note how he immediately fixes on the point that this solves the campaign finance problem (even though it appears not to). He’s adamant and cocky about it. He is then caught off guard when Hannity – himself caught off guard and scrambling in response to the initial claim – reminds him that the story is that Trump never knew anything about the Daniels deal at all and did not know where the money was from.
Later in the interview and now this morning he has groped his way to a new hybrid story which is that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the payment without ever knowing that the payment had been made, who it had been made to or how much it was for. With sufficient grease and spit and oblong pieces of cardboard, Rudy is halfway able to make this make sense. But by any real measure, it makes no sense.
Somewhere in here is what I believe is the real story, which is that Cohen cleaned up messes for Trump sometimes with his own money, sometimes with no questions asked on the understanding that he’d be paid back or cut in on deals from which he’d come out ahead. It makes perfect sense, based on my knowledge of Trump, that rather than paying him back directly – and creating a paper trail to the sex/hush money – he packaged the money as something else.
In any case, people often imagine there are plans when there are no plans. Or they think that when there’s an intricate argument it must show a plan and perhaps a good one. The reality is that sometimes you have no good plan because you, in fact, have no good options. You’re stuck. Put more coarsely, sometimes you’re just fucked. What you have are a half dozen brainstorms cooked up by a group of old men in a room used to bending reality to their purposes when something goes wrong. That’s much more difficult on a national stage in front of intense scrutiny. That’s what happened last night. Rudy Giuliani is far, far past his prime, used to the accommodating hothouse world of Fox News cronies and cash and carry deal-making in his law firm gigs. This was as sloppy as it looked and did his client no favors.