President Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani have been trying to fend off criminal accusations against Trump based on Michael Cohen‘s conviction for campaign finance violations that Cohen said came at Trump’s direction. Trump and Giuliani have cited the case of former presidential candidate John Edwards, who faced—and was ultimately acquitted of—charges in an eerily similar case, but a 2012 interview Trump gave undermines the sincerity of this defense.
Edwards had been accused of accepting and trying to hide money that he then used to pay off his mistress to keep their affair hidden from the public, as that money was alleged to be from illegal campaign contributions. Edwards’ defense was that he didn’t know the details of the payment or that the money was from campaign contributions.
Trump talked about the case during a Fox News phone interview with Greta Van Susteren on April 27, 2012. The relevant portion can be heard at the 9:21 mark in the video above.
To be fair, part of what Trump said is fairly consistent with what he’s saying now, in that he didn’t think the case against Edwards was particularly strong, nor did he think it was all that important:
With all that’s going on in this country, they’re going now, and this is a very, very tough trial to start off with, and a lot of people are saying it’s not a trial that the government’s going to win. But with everything going on, with the money that is being just–the billions and trillions of dollars being thrown out the window– I really think we have better things to do.
Right after this, it gets a lot more interesting.
“And frankly, a lot of people say, and a lot of very good lawyers have told me that the government doesn’t have a good case, they’re spending months and years on this case,” Trump said. “And I am, again, not a fan, I don’t believe him at all, but I hate to see resources wasted to this extent. His life is destroyed anyway, regardless.”
That first sentence undermines Trump’s claim that he was relying on Cohen as his attorney to know the law to steer him in the right direction, and that he didn’t direct Cohen to break the law. He said during the Edwards case that he spoke to “a lot of very good lawyers” about these very issues, which would mean he was aware of the relevant laws.
The big one, however, is the next sentence, because Trump says, “I don’t believe him at all.” It’s one thing to acknowledge that the government has a weak case because they can’t prove that Edwards is lying, but if you yourself think he’s lying, that’s pretty much acknowledging that he did something wrong.
Using the Edwards case as a defense seems pretty disingenuous once you realize that Trump didn’t buy Edwards’ defense in the first place.
The President is not implicated in campaign finance violations because based on Edwards case and others the payments are not campaign contributions. No responsible prosecutor would premise a criminal case on a questionable interpretation of the law.
— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) December 8, 2018
It’s one thing to believe that offenses like this aren’t a big enough deal to warrant spending the resources required to prosecute them—also, Edwards wasn’t as big of a deal because he didn’t become president. It’s another thing to say that they aren’t offenses at all.
Ronn Blitzer is the Senior Legal Editor of Law&Crime. Follow him on Twitter @RonnBlitzer.
[Image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.