Since President Trump brought Rudy Giuliani on board as a legal adviser a few weeks ago, the administration’s official stance regarding the scandalous story of an affair between Trump and adult film star Stormy Daniels has completely unspooled. Equal parts bonkers and mind-boggling, like many things during the Trump era, this story would be comical if it wasn’t so convoluted.
Below is a timeline chronicling the latest developments in the Trump-Giuliani-Daniels drama, beginning with Giuliani’s appointment to Trump’s board and ending with wherever we are now.
During Giuliani’s interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, Giuliani seemed to out Trump, who up, until that point, had maintained that there was no affair with Daniels and that he was unaware of a payment made to her for her silence regarding the alleged incident.
Giuliani told Hannity, “I’m giving you a fact now that you don’t know. It’s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation … [the payment was] funneled through a law firm, and the president repaid it.”
Later the same day, in a conversation with Buzzfeed, Giuliani mentioned that following the 2016 election, Cohen had “complained to some people” that Trump had not paid him. Supposedly, Trump had then met with Cohen and agreed to pay him $35,000 per month for a year — out of his own personal funds — to cover Cohen’s expenses.
Giuliani maintained, “It clearly was a payment to reimburse expenses. I’m almost certain that there wasn’t an itemized bill.” Giuliani continued with the explanation that Cohen had discussed neither Daniels’s allegations nor the payment to Daniels with Trump.
Seeing an opportunity to settle the matter for a very small sum of money, Cohen had purportedly taken it upon himself to resolve the issue in an attempt to spare Melania Trump the embarrassment of a media circus surrounding the alleged affair.
The day began with Trump posting a statement on Twitter in which he acknowledged Cohen’s retainer and the associated non-disclosure agreement between himself and Daniels.
That same morning, Giuliani appeared on “Fox and Friends” and shared that he and Trump had decided together on May 2 that Giuliani would reveal that Trump had in fact reimbursed Cohen for the payment to Daniels in 2016. Giuliani then openly discussed the potential damage to the Trump campaign if the alleged affair between Daniels and Trump had to come to light at the height of the campaign season.
At this point, Giuliani must have realized that alluding to the potential damage to the campaign this news could’ve caused only serves to make the situation sound exactly like the campaign finance issue many are alleging it to be.
To prevent himself from sticking his foot any further into his mouth, Guliani then wrapped up his word vomit session with a repetition of his opinion that Cohen had merely paid off Daniels in an attempt to protect the Trump family.
As Giuliani’s statements continued to dominate the news cycle, Trump appeared to indicate that he didn’t approve of his lawyer’s statements exactly as Giuliani had given them. In response to inquiries from the press, Trump replied that Giuliani was still new to the job, “learning the subject matter” and will “get his facts straight.”
Giuliani then responded by stating that campaign or no campaign, the deal with Daniels would have taken place as an attempt to spare the family embarrassment. He then explained that his statements weren’t meant as an explanation of the president’s knowledge of the situation, so much as an explanation of Giuliani’s own “understanding of these matters.”
Saturday evening, Giuliani was at it again on Fox News — this time with the pro-Trump news host, Jeanine Pirro. Giuliani waffled back and forth, saying, “Every campaign finance expert, Republican and Democrat, will tell you that if it was for another purpose other than just campaigns, and even if it was for campaign purposes, if it was to save his family, to save embarrassment, it’s not a campaign donation.
“And, second, even if it was a campaign donation, the President reimbursed it fully with a payment of $35,000 a month that paid for that and other expenses. No need to go beyond that, case over.”
Giuliani then reiterated what Trump had said the day before, that he was still new to the job and wasn’t completely up to speed on his legal role yet.
On the same day, and in the midst of all of this insanity, the public received a much-needed break. Americans have to give some credit and thanks to “Saturday Night Live” for adding a little levity to the situation with their all-star packed comedic skit.
“SNL’s” cold open featured Alec Baldwin as Trump, Jimmy Fallon as Jared Kushner, Scarlett Johansson as Ivanka Trump, Martin Short as Dr. Bornstein, Ben Stiller as Michael Cohen and yes, even Stormy Daniels herself. Daniels ends the skit by telling Baldwin, “A storm’s a comin’!”
In an interview on ABC, George Stephanopoulos raised the issue of Cohen’s $35,000 monthly retainer and the associated payment to Daniels, asking if Giuliani was saying that the president was aware of them. Giuliani replied that he did not know if Trump was aware of the payment to Daniels, nor was Giuliani certain that Cohen had been reimbursed by Trump.
Not only had Giuliani stated the exact opposite in the preceding few days, Trump himself acknowledged these facts on Friday, May 4.
Stephanopolous reminded Giuliani he had stated these as facts, at which point Giuliani appeared to walk back the remarks he’d made just days before, replying that these are all rumors, and he that he isn’t aware of the facts because he is not involved in that part of Trump’s affairs. After declaring his own former statements of fact to be rumors, Giuliani followed up with dismissive statements about the situation as a whole.
“It’s history now because it wasn’t a campaign anything,” he said. When Stephanopolous inquired as to when the president first learned Daniels wanted hush money, Giuliani once again attempted to cover all the bases with his response.
“Don’t know. Doesn’t matter to me,” says Giulani. “What matters to me are two things, two relevant legal things, which is what my job is. Number 1, it was not a campaign contribution because it would have been done anyway … and Number 2, even if it was considered a campaign contribution, it was entirely reimbursed out of private funds. Which I don’t think we will even get to because the first one is enough. So, case closed for Donald Trump, and I think for Michael Cohen.”
Giuliani then went on to refer to the $130,000 payment to Daniels as “a nuisance payment,” stating that when his clients try to squash similar rumors pertaining to real extramarital affairs, the payments are typically in the millions. Or, as Giuliani put it, “People don’t go away for 130,000.” Well, Mr. Giuliani, Stormy Daniels hasn’t really gone away, has she?
Explaining the relationship between Cohen and Trump, Giuliani stated, “This agreement with Michael Cohen, as far as I know, is a longstanding agreement that Michael Cohen takes care of situations like this then gets paid for them sometimes.”
Stephanopolous followed that statement up with a question as to whether there were more women paid off, at which point Giuliani left it out there that this is entirely possible, replying, “I have no knowledge of that, but I would think if it was necessary, yes.”
Stephanopolous continued to press Giuliani about his repeated statements that these were all facts, at which point Giuliani replied, “I don’t know — I don’t know how you separate fact and opinion.”
Well, Mr. Giuliani, one good way to do that is to take someone at their word when they tell you they are stating a fact. Perhaps we are dealing with those “alternative facts” that the Trump administration is so fond of.
Following Giuliani’s interview, Stephanopolous spoke with Daniels’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, who argued, “I think it is obvious to the American people that this is a cover-up, that they are making it up as they go along. They don’t know what to say because they’ve lost track of the truth.”
Later that afternoon, Giuliani said in a phone interview with CNN’s Dana Bash that he is focused more on the law than the facts right now, but that the $130,000 payment to Daniels doesn’t require him to know all of the facts. Again, he repeated the mantra that this was not a campaign contribution, it was merely an attempt at sparing the family embarrassment.
The past 36 hours
Perhaps this is all a ruse? Maybe this disastrous legal representation is meant to take the focus off of Trump and Stormy for a moment. Intentional or not, news over the past couple days has moved from an outright obsession with the scandalous Trump and Daniels story to what a train wreck Giuliani has become.
In one headline the U.K.’s Independent declared, “Rudy Giuliani is doing a fantastic job of ruining Trump’s presidency.” The Washington Post proclaimed, “Rudy Giuliani has hit rock bottom,” while Time magazine reported, “Donald Trump Frustrated With Lawyer Rudy Giuliani.”
“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” brought a bit more humor to the situation with a video titled “Rudy Giuliani is Digging Himself Into a Hole” in which just the top of Giuliani’s head is visible from inside a hole. Giuliani is comically questioned about his contradictory statements.
New York Magazine has, perhaps, the most apropos and ironic headline: “Trump Worried Aging, Loudmouth New Yorker Can’t Stay on Message.” Oh, Mr. President, welcome to the real world. America worries about that every time you open your mouth or tweet.