Trump changes his story about Stormy Daniels

President Donald Trump is shifting his story about the Stormy Daniels controversy following the revelation by his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, that the President reimbursed Michael Cohen's payment to the adult film actress. CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports.

Posted: May 4, 2018 3:04 PM
Updated: May 4, 2018 3:07 PM

What we're seeing at the White House this week is damage control upon damage control upon damage control. And none of it is working.

On Wednesday, the President's lawyer went out with a new explanation about what his other lawyer did to keep a porn star quiet in 2016. On Friday, the President himself was saying the lawyer doing damage control didn't have his facts straight.

This is not theater of the absurd; it is actually what is happening at the White House.

The tangle of stories and explanations and contradictions by President Donald Trump, his lawyers and his press secretary about the payoff by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen of porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election is knotted so tight it has become impossible to follow one thread.

The most consistent thing in the White House's message is that the Daniels story is "that kind of crap," as Trump put it Friday morning, and there are multiple "witch hunts" out to get him.

After that, things get complicated in a hurry.

Damage control No. 1 started Wednesday night and continued through Thursday as Rudy Giuliani dropped the bombshell news that, contrary to his previous comments, the President had in fact reimbursed Cohen for paying a porn star to keep quiet about an alleged affair in the final days of the 2016 election.

What Giuliani said upended months of White House misdirection on the Daniels subject. It was a very big deal. Giuliani made it seem like his disclosure was sort of ripping off the Band-Aid.

Damage control No. 2 happened Friday when Trump walked over to reporters on the way out the door of the White House and said Giuliani didn't know what the heck he was talking about.

Never mind that Giuliani went on a media blitz, starting with appearances on Fox News and including conversations with multiple reporters from multiple media outlets.

Giuliani's explanations on Fox News worked in tandem with tweets from Trump's personal Twitter account that corroborated what Giuliani said. His talking points -- that the special counsel Robert Mueller investigation was distracting from the President's day job -- mirrored what Trump has been arguing.

But Giuliani was made to look like he'd gone rogue by Friday morning.

"I'll tell you what," Trump said. "Rudy is a great guy, but he just started a day ago. But he's really got his heart into it. He's working hard. He's learning the subject matter and he's going to be issuing a statement too, but he is a great guy."

OK. Giuliani did not start a day ago, for starters. And if he really was just getting up on the facts, why did the President and the White House allow him to keep talking for more than a day?

A bit later Friday morning, Trump got on his helicopter and flew away from the White House to Joint Base Andrews, where he got out of the helicopter, walked up to another group of reporters, and said, despite Giuliani's admissions Wednesday and Thursday, that his story about Daniels wasn't changing at all.

"We're not changing any stories," Trump proclaimed. He demanded that reporters go back and look at what he said about Daniels and the payments.

Except that's what reporters had been doing nonstop since Giuliani appeared on Fox News.

Trump said pretty definitively in April on Air Force One he didn't know about Cohen's payments. Here's a transcript:

Reporter: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

Trump: No.

Reporter: Then why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to the allegations?

Trump: Well, you'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney and you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.

Reporter: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

Trump: No, I don't know.

Giuliani's explanation was certainly different than that -- that the President had reimbursed Cohen, even if he hadn't known specifically about the payment at the time, he had Cohen on retainer for this type of thing. Trump's tweet also made the idea of having a lawyer on retainer to deal with a threat like Daniels' commonplace.

Which part of those facts Giuliani didn't have straight, we will have to stay tuned to find out, apparently. For now, the President just wants you to know that some of them weren't. We will keep you posted if we learn more.

Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, was forced during Thursday's briefing to basically admit that the information she gives might not be right on a given day.

ABC's Jonathan Karl asked her directly, "When the President so often says things that turn out not to be true, when the President and the White House show what appears to be a blatant disregard for the truth, how are the American people to trust or believe what is said here and what is said by the President?"

Her answer did not instill confidence that facts are being administered.

"We give the very best information that we have at the time," Sanders said. "I do that every single day, and will continue to do that every day I'm in this position."

The problem is that -- and this is now particularly true on the issue of Daniels and the separate issue of the special counsel investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion by the Trump campaign -- the best information at the time is so often undercut by the next day's information that it's become impossible to keep up.

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