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The Latest On Trump's Legal Challenges


We're going to start the program today by looking back at one of the big political stories of the week. President Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, have been going back and forth over comments Giuliani made earlier in the week. Giuliani, a former mayor of New York City - and before that, a federal prosecutor - suggested Trump reimbursed his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, for a $130,000 hush payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels. President Trump has since said that Giuliani needs to get his facts straight. Quote, "you know what? Learn before you speak. It's a lot easier," Trump said.

We wanted to get a sense of what these contradicting statements might mean for President Trump's legal strategy, so we called Josh Gerstein. He's a White House correspondent for Politico, and he covers national security and legal issues. He's with us now from Boston via Skype. Josh Gerstein, thanks so much for speaking with us.

JOSH GERSTEIN: Hey, Michel. Great to talk to you.

MARTIN: So first, for those who haven't been following this story closely, could you just bring us up to speed? How exactly did Rudy Giuliani's comments contradict what we had previously been told by President Trump and others on his legal team?

GERSTEIN: Well, President Trump had said previously in an interview early in April on Air Force One that he didn't know anything about the $130,000 payment that you just mentioned that went to this porn star right before the election in 2016. He also said that he didn't know where the funds for it had come from.

And so it was quite a shock to many people to hear Rudy Giuliani suddenly, in the middle of an interview on Fox News on the Hannity program earlier this week, blurt out basically halfway through the interview that, in fact, the president had known about it and that he had reimbursed this money and had sent the money to his lawyer and so that he did, in fact, have involvement in arranging this payment with the porn star, or at least paying for it after the fact.

MARTIN: So Giuliani said he'd cleared these talking points before and after his interview with Fox News personality Sean Hannity. But, as we said, the president said that Giuliani needs to get his facts straight. Do we have any sense of why Rudy Giuliani might have made these statements? Was this - you know, what was the purpose of this?

GERSTEIN: Well, you know, we know that there were some conversations between the president and Giuliani, and they seem to have decided on their own that it was important to get some information out there. Although whether it was exactly what Giuliani said, we're not entirely sure. It sounds like the president was unhappy with some of the things that Giuliani said.

There may have been a need to clarify the president's earlier denial because remember, people may be aware that there's a court proceeding going on in New York where a bunch of records were taken from the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen. And prosecutors and other lawyers are beginning to go through those seized records. And it seems quite possible that there's paperwork in there - emails, other kinds of documents - that would indicate that the president had reimbursed this $130,000 payment and then some, according to Mr. Giuliani. So they may have wanted to get on the right side of those facts.

But Giuliani made a bunch of other sort of very strange statements during the interviews. You know, took a shot at Jared Kushner, for example, said that the president had only learned these facts in the last couple of weeks and other statements along those lines, including a suggestion, after saying that it wasn't having anything to do with the campaign, he then suggested, well, it would have been a terrible thing if this came out right before the election. So it was not a very sort of controlled initial appearance by Mr. Giuliani.

MARTIN: Well, as you might imagine, there's been a lot of conversation about this, particularly from legal experts over the past week about why this might matter. Could you summarize what the arguments are from different legal camps about what the significance of this might be?

GERSTEIN: Well, I think sort of the worst case scenario for the president is, it does appear to tie him more closely to this payment, which we know that federal prosecutors in New York are investigating as a potential campaign finance violation. Before these comments by Mr. Giuliani, it seemed plausible that maybe Michael Cohen had somehow gone and done this on his own, and the president didn't know anything about it. So now he's tied more closely to this particular transaction that we know is under criminal investigation.

If you want to look at it in the light most charitable to the president, remember the defense of Mr. Cohen and the defense of the president here has been throughout that look - whatever money was paid here, this was a personal matter that didn't have anything to do with the campaign. And I guess it makes a bit more sense that President Trump would want to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle this kind of an allegation than that some person associated with him that, you know, would pay it out of their own pocket. Maybe that makes it more likely that it is mostly personal in nature.

MARTIN: That is Josh Gerstein. He's a White House correspondent for Politico. He's with us from Boston via Skype. Josh Gerstein, thanks so much for talking with us.

GERSTEIN: Anytime, Michel. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.