“What did the president know, and when did he know it?”
That famous question from the Watergate congressional hearings captured the essence President Richard Nixon’s predicament. What did he know about the break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters during the 1972 presidential campaign and the subsequent effort to cover it up, and when did he learn those details?
Now, verbatim, that question is being rolled out for President Trump, only this time it’s for his alleged affair with adult film actress Stormy Daniels and the subsequent $130,000 hush money agreement his lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen forced her to enter in to just before the 2016 presidential election.
After denying rumors of the affair for over a year, Team Trump was forced to acknowledge something untoward was going on with Ms. Daniels when the Wall Street Journal first reported the existence of the Non Disclosure Agreement and the accompanying $130,000 payment from Cohen.
Since then, representatives for the president, from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to the multitude of surrogates on cable news, have denied both the affair and any knowledge of Michael Cohen’s shenanigans.
In April, President Trump himself flatly denied knowing about the payments from Cohen to Daniels while speaking to reporters on Air Force One. That continued to be Trump’s official story until Rudy Giuliani went on Fox News and admitted that the president not only knew about the payments; he reimbursed Cohen for them out of his own pocket, too.
Giuliani has spent the two days since that bombshell revelation trying to clean up and walk back the damage he’d inflicted. He now says that the president only learned about the hush money Cohen paid to Daniels “about 10 days ago” – after he made those denials on Air Force One, but before Giuliani’s disclosures on Fox News.
But not even a day since advancing that attempt at a clarification, new reporting from the New York Times appears to blow that up, too. Citing two people familiar with the arrangement, The Times reported late Friday night that Trump knew about the payments “several months before he denied any knowledge of it to reporters aboard Air Force One in April.”
More from the Times:
It was not immediately clear when Mr. Trump learned of the payment, which Mr. Cohen made in October 2016, at a time when news media outlets were poised to pay her for her story about an alleged affair with Mr. Trump in 2006. But three people close to the matter said that Mr. Trump knew that Mr. Cohen had succeeded in keeping the allegations from becoming public at the time the president denied it.
“What did the president know, and when did he know it?” The entire Trump presidency now rests on the answers to that short eleven word question. Stay tuned.