WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hours after President Donald Trump said his lawyer Rudy Giuliani did not have “his facts straight,” the former New York mayor issued a statement on Friday saying $130,000 in hush money paid to an adult-film star before the 2016 election was not an election law violation.
Giuliani on Thursday had connected the payment to Stormy Daniels by the president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to keep quiet about a 2006 sexual encounter she said she had with Trump to the election, remarks that raised the possibility that the transaction violated federal election law.
“There is no campaign violation. The payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the President’s family. It would have been done in any event, whether he was a candidate or not,” Giuliani said in a brief statement “intended to clarify the views I expressed over the past few days.”
Giuliani in a TV interview on Thursday wondered what would have happened if Daniels’ claim of an affair had come up in a debate between Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, adding, “Cohen made it go away. He did his job.”
In comments to reporters at the White House before boarding a helicopter, Trump seemed to undercut Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor who the president recently hired to represent him. Giuliani conducted a series of news media interviews this week that only intensified the controversy involving Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and other matters.
“Rudy is a great guy, but he just started a day ago. But he really has his heart into it. He’s working hard. He’s learning the subject matter,” Trump said.
“He’ll get his facts straight,” Trump added, though he did not specify the statements by Giuliani, who joined the president’s legal team on April 19, to which he was referring.
Giuliani late on Wednesday revealed that Trump had repaid Cohen for the $130,000 the lawyer had provided to Daniels. Trump previously had denied knowing about the payment.
The next morning, Trump said on Twitter that Cohen was paid back through a monthly retainer, not campaign funds, to stop Daniels’ “false and extortionist accusations.”
Asked about the matter on Friday, Trump said, without explicitly mentioning Giuliani, that “virtually everything said has been said incorrectly, and it’s been said wrong, or it’s been covered wrong by the press.”
In his statement on Friday, Giuliani said, “My references to timing were not describing my understanding of the President’s knowledge, but instead, my understanding of these matters,” but did not provide specifics.
Giuliani in an appearance on Fox News on Wednesday had said Trump fired James Comey as FBI director last year because Comey declined to state publicly that Trump was not at the time a target of the agency’s investigation into Russia’s role in the election. Critics have pointed to Comey’s firing as evidence of obstruction of justice by Trump.
In his Friday statement, Giuliani said it was “undisputed” that Trump had the constitutional power to fire Comey and that doing so has turned out to be “plainly in the best interests of our nation.”
The Republican president, facing legal troubles on several fronts, also indicated he would be willing to be interviewed in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, but only if he knew he would be treated fairly. Mueller is probing potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and whether the president has unlawfully sought to obstruct the investigation.
“Nobody wants to speak more than me ... because we’ve done nothing wrong,” Trump said.
“I have to find that we’re going to be treated fairly, because everybody sees it now, and it is a pure witch hunt,” Trump added, while incorrectly saying that Mueller, a Republican former FBI director, has a “group of investigators that are all Democrats.”
“If I thought it was fair, I would override my lawyer,” Trump added.
During a pretrial hearing in Virginia on Mueller’s charges against Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III openly questioned whether the special counsel had exceeded his prosecutorial powers by bringing the case.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Tim Ahmann and Susan Heavey; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis