Trump Didn't Misuse Funds, Former Special Assistant Lotter Says
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
President Trump spoke this morning to Fox News, responding to the guilty plea of his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who admitted to paying to silence two women from speaking out during the campaign about their alleged affairs with the president.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's called flipping, and it almost ought to be illegal. You get 10 years in jail, but if you say bad things about somebody - in other words, make up stories if you don't know - make up stories - they just make up lies. Alan Dershowitz said compose, right? They make up lies. I've seen it many times. They make up things, and now they go from 10 years to they're a national hero.
GREENE: For more, we have Marc Lotter with us in our studios. He's a former special assistant to President Trump and now an adviser for Trump's 2020 campaign.
Mr. Lotter, welcome back to the program.
MARC LOTTER: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
GREENE: I really want to focus on these payments, if we can. Back in April, the president said he didn't know where Michael Cohen got the money to pay the adult film star Stormy Daniels, who's one of the women we're talking about here. Yesterday, though, this is what President Trump said on Fox News.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)
TRUMP: They weren't taken out of campaign finance. That's a big thing. That's a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They didn't come out of the campaign. They came from me.
GREENE: They came from me. Can you square what we are hearing from the president now, that these payments came from him, and what he said on Air Force One in April that he didn't know where this money came from.
LOTTER: Well, as has been said many times before, he did not know about the payments before they were made. After the fact, he made - he became aware of the payments and then the repayment through Michael Cohen. And so that's what the president has been saying from the beginning.
GREENE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment? He was asked on Air Force One. No, I don't know. That makes it sound like he knew where this money was - I mean, listening to him yesterday, it makes it sound like he knew exactly where this money was coming from. I mean, how should the American public believe that this president is an honest man here?
LOTTER: Well, it's not like - it's as he said, he did not know how Michael Cohen made those payments. He reimbursed those payments through - after the fact. And so - and that part of the story has not changed. And there's a lot of discussion right now, and there are a lot of questions about, did Michael Cohen actually even commit a federal election violation under campaign finance laws? And why would he plead guilty to something that may not even be a crime?
GREENE: Well, it is a crime if money was spent to silence people in order to help a candidate win an election, which sounds like what Michael Cohen is admitting to. So how are you suggesting it wouldn't be a crime...
LOTTER: Well, you can...
GREENE: ...If he's saying that's exactly what happened?
LOTTER: You can actually look at the FEC - a former commissioner of the FEC writes a piece in The Washington Post this morning talking about how using personal funds for something along this lines - and it's really no different - if there was a dispute in the construction of a Trump hotel, and the president said, let's get this settled because it's negatively impacting the campaign, that is not a campaign expense. That is a personal or a business expense, and it is completely legal to make that settlement. And that's what this case is. In fact, the FEC commissioner went on to say, if he had used campaign funds, they would probably be accusing him of using campaign funds for personal uses. It's a very muddy area in the law, but there are a lot of experts out there in campaign finance who are saying that this is not a violation.
GREENE: Campaign - there are some experts saying it might not be, but a lot of experts saying it might be, and I wonder - you're saying it's muddy. Doesn't that mean that you don't know where this might go and the president could be in real legal jeopardy? If he indeed directed Michael Cohen to make these payments and, you know, it is concluded that the payments were made in order to affect the election, couldn't the president really be in legal trouble?
LOTTER: I don't think so because when you look - go back through history, it's littered with just about every campaign and candidate facing FEC violations, from Bernie Sanders, who accepted illegal foreign help during this most recent campaign. He was fined $14,000. You can go back to the '90s, when President Clinton was accused in a Washington Post Bob Woodward article of maybe working with the Chinese to direct foreign contributions. Hillary Clinton is accused of it. Bill - Barack Obama paid one of the largest fines ever for campaign violations.
GREENE: None of those are paying off women during a campaign, women who have accused the president of having an affair with them - or of alleged an affair. None of those are the same case.
LOTTER: But what you have to look at is the law. The law does not carve out a specific aspect for former adult film stars or mistresses. It is actually, what is the payment being used for? And if the payment is being used to settle something that would actually have still occurred regardless of a person's candidacy then it is not considered a campaign violation.
GREENE: Why aren't Republicans in Congress coming out and saying some of the things that you're saying, coming to the defense of this president right now?
LOTTER: Well, I can't speak for Republicans in Congress. I know what many Republicans in Congress would rather talk about is our booming economy, our reinvesting in our military and the things that actually mean something to most of the voters at home as they get ready to go to the polls in November. This is salacious, and it generates attention. But when you're looking at the things back home, they're more talking about the economy, their jobs, how are they going to be able to put their kids through college, and that's really the focus and where Republicans should be focused right now because of the strength of the economy.
GREENE: Mark Lotter's a former special assistant to President Trump and now advising his 2020 campaign. Mr. Lotter, thanks a lot.
LOTTER: Thank you for having me.
GREENE: Want to turn briefly to NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro.
Domenico, why do you think we're not hearing Republicans come out and rush and say that Donald Trump is fine here?
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, first of all, it's all complicated, as, you know, you hear Mark Lotter trying to sort of muddy the waters and, you know, give some cover to this president, especially for a re-election campaign. The op-ed he was referring to was from Bradley Smith, who is a former George W. Bush appointee. You know, I would refer to the piece that we did from Peter Overby fact-checking why these payments are potentially illegal. He says, not complicated - the publisher's contract with AMI amounted to a corporate campaign contribution, but corporations cannot contribute to campaigns. Cohen's payment to Daniels amounts to a personal contribution from him to the campaign, and it's far above the legal limit.
GREENE: OK. So potentially real legal trouble - maybe that's the reason we're not seeing Republicans jump out and say that we're supporting this president right now.
GREENE: NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks.
MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.