By appearing on Sean Hannity's show last night, making the statements he did, Rudy Giuliani might well have landed his client, Donald Trump, in much deeper hot water than Giuliani ever realized or intended.
This is what happens when lawyers let their own egos get in the way of their legal responsibilities to their client.
The problem has to do with the $130k payment Michael Cohen made to Stormy Daniels, and Trump's reimbursement of that money to Cohen.
Until Giuliani opened his mouth, Trump denied he knew anything about the payment. We now know that's an outright lie. Within 12 hours of Giuliani’s appearance on Hannity, Trump has admitted he knew about the original payment and reimbursed Cohen for it. In a statement, he said it was, “To stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair.”
Trump also tweeted that the repayment came in the form of “a monthly retainer.”
Conveniently defining it any way he wants, lying to the public is not Trump’s biggest problem because Trump lies all the time. It’s almost as if we’ve come to accept that as his normal behavior.
What Trump needs to be extremely worried about is that original $130k payment.
If Cohen did not break any laws anywhere, federally or in any state, by making that payment, then Giuliani is right in saying that Trump's reimbursement of the money to Cohen is not illegal. In spite of whatever machinations Trump might have gone through to hide his participation in the repayment – even pretending that it was a monthly retainer - he’d be in the clear.
After all, if you give me $10 to give to your kid who’s just lost his front tooth, and I make the kid believe that the money came, not from you, but from the Tooth Fairy, while we’ve conspired to hide the origins of that money, in this case, that’s not illegal.
But Donald Trump is not the Tooth Fairy.
Yet, if the timing of Cohen’s payment can be tied directly to the election, that could be considered an illegal campaign contribution. If Trump’s reimbursement of what would then appear to be a loan, did not include interest payments on that loan, that could be another campaign violation.
Now think about this: Money laundering takes place when you disguise the origins of illicit money, or clean money which is then used for illicit purposes. If you take legally earned money and deliberately hide it from your ex-wife when she’s got a court order saying she’s entitled to it, that can be laundering. Same, too, if you’ve disguised it to defraud the IRS through tax evasion.
In this case, it seems that, in addition to any Federal Election Committee laws that might have been violated, there have been suggestions that Cohen might have also committed bank fraud. He is known to have used a Delaware shell company to hide the origins of the payment to Daniels. If anything untoward taints the original payment, then Trump is party to that tainted original payment as well. In repaying Cohen, Trump is considered to have paid tainted money to Stormy Daniels.
While Cohen used a Delaware shell company to hide the origins of the payment, Trump certainly didn't write Cohen checks from his personal account to reimburse him. The question becomes, did Trump also use a company or companies, or any kind of anonymous vehicle, to hide the origins of his reimbursement?
Just as an aside, if he didn't send the money to Cohen in a way that is typical of a monthly retainer, then it’s not a monthly retainer.
Furthermore, Giuliani said the repayments, plural, took place over several months. Does that mean Trump structured those payments to stay under the $10k reporting limits? If there are more than 13 payments, that’s structuring. It would be almost impossible to define it any other way. His monthly retainer excuse is not credible and, say, a cash flow defense would be laughed out of court.
Add in here the fact that Giuliani said Trump’s payments were made into a lawyer's client account. Are monthly retainers paid directly to lawyers or held by them in the client’s name? And did the lawyer, whoever that is – including Cohen – report his suspicions about those multiple payments when they appear to have been structured, perhaps to avoid reporting? If not, that opens the lawyer to money laundering liabilities as well.
Again, this all hangs on the legality of the original payment. But if that money is tainted in any way, shape or form, then the actions of Cohen, Trump and the lawyer in the middle look exactly like money laundering.
That's a federal crime, of course. But it is also a crime in the State of New York, where this took place, and where the money laundering laws are, at times, even more draconian than the federal money laundering laws. What's more, the State of Virginia has money laundering laws that cover crimes out of state, especially Washington DC.
Federally, someone convicted of money laundering is looking at up to 20 years, per count. If the repayment was structured to stay under $10k, that's 14 counts. In New York, laundering over $100,000 is a Class 2 felony, punishable by up to 15 years. Per count. In Virginia, money laundering charges can carry imprisonment up to 45 years. Per count.
Given that, it’s understandable why neither Trump nor Cohen picked up the phone this morning to tell Rudy, loved you on Hannity’s show.