White House won't say whether there are more hush-money payments to women

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON — The White House press briefing on Wednesday was dominated by questions about payments that were made to silence a pair of women who claimed they had affairs with President Trump. However, press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to answer all of the questions, including whether other women received similar payments from Trump.

Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felonies in a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday, including two campaign finance violations stemming from payments he made to Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) and Karen McDougal, who said they had affairs with Trump in 2006 and 2007. Along with admitting that he made the payments to help Trump’s 2016 White House bid, Cohen made the explosive claim that the future president personally coordinated and directed the transfer of the funds.

Cohen’s comments potentially implicated Trump in the campaign finance violations. Trump responded to Cohen’s testimony in an appearance on Fox News on Wednesday, saying he became aware of the payments only “later on” and that the money came from him personally rather than from his campaign. Although he has admitted the women were paid, Trump has repeatedly denied the alleged affairs.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders speaks during a White House briefing on Aug. 22, 2018. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Sanders’s briefing began with the simplest question of all: Did Trump commit a crime?

“As the president has said, we’ve stated many times, he did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him, and we’ve commented on this extensively,” Sanders said.

It was the most direct answer Sanders would offer on the subject.

Trump is allowed to donate unlimited funds to his own campaign. If the money given to the women was designed to shield him from embarrassment during his run for office, which would make it a campaign expense, the payoffs wouldn’t necessarily have been improper if the funds came directly from Trump and were reported in required filings with the Federal Election Commission.

Sanders declined to answer a question on why the payments to Clifford and McDougal were not reported if they came from Trump’s own funds.

“I’m not going to get into the back-and-forth details,” Sanders said. “I can tell you, as the president has stated on numerous occasions, he did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him in this. And just because Michael Cohen made a plea deal doesn’t mean that that implicates the president on anything.”

Trump’s position on the payments has evolved since the transactions were first reported in a pair of stories by the Wall Street Journal. In April, Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he had no knowledge of the payment to Daniels. Trump’s admission to Fox News that he knew about the payments at some point after they were made would seemingly contradict those past comments.

At the briefing, Sanders was asked, “Has he lied?”

“I think that’s a ridiculous accusation,” Sanders said.

Trump’s current claim that he found out about the payments only later was also seemingly contradicted by a tape Cohen released prior to making his plea deal. In that recording, he and Trump appear to discuss how to execute the payment to McDougal. Sanders was also asked to explain this apparent contradiction. The press secretary repeated what became something of a mantra for the briefing.

“Once again, I’ve commented on this pretty extensively. What I can tell you about this is that the president did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him. There is no collusion. For anything beyond that, I would refer you to the president’s outside counsel,” Sanders said.

When asked whether other women had been paid, Sanders again refused to answer.

“Once again, I’ve addressed all that I’m going to say on the Cohen issue,” she said. “For those specific questions with more details, I would refer you to the president’s outside counsel.”

Trump’s attorneys, Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, did not immediately respond to requests for comment following the briefings.

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