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Trump lawyer puts forward Stormy Daniels' hush money defense: ‘It’s not a crime’

In an interview on MSNBC, Trump's lawyer Joe Tacopina said the former president was relying on the advice of his then-attorney Michael Cohen.
Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina
Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina joins MSNBC Chief Legal Correspondent Ari Melber on “The Beat.”NBC News

Donald Trump's lawyer gave a preview of the former president's defense against possible criminal charges relating to a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, saying that his client's actions were "not a crime."

In an interview Tuesday on MSNBC, Trump attorney Joe Tacopina said his client was following the advice of his then-lawyer Michael Cohen when he signed off on the payments that are being scrutinized by the Manhattan district attorney's office.

Cohen "was his lawyer at the time and advised him that this was the proper way to do this to protect himself and his family from embarrassment. It’s as simple as that," Tacopina said. "That is not a crime. It's not a crime."

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to a federal charge relating to a $130,000 payment to Daniels in the closing days of the 2016 campaign. Daniels has said the money was to keep her quiet about her claim that she'd slept with the married Trump in 2006, an allegation Trump denies.

Cohen has said that Trump ordered him to pay the hush money and that it was for the “principal purpose of influencing” the 2016 presidential election.

Cohen was later repaid the money he'd shelled out to Daniels through payments that were listed by Trump's company as "legal fees."

The DA is now investigating Trump for felony falsification of business records. Cohen testified before the grand jury hearing evidence in the case for a second time Wednesday.

Tacopina maintained the records weren't falsified.

"The payments were made to a lawyer, not to Stormy Daniels. The payments were made to Donald Trump’s lawyer, which would be considered legal fees," he said.

"His lawyer classified them as legal services. His lawyer sent him an invoice for legal services. His lawyer told him they would be properly classified as legal services. He relied on his lawyer," Tacopina added. "This was how Michael Cohen structured this."

He also said the money wasn't paid out in an effort to influence the election and referred to the amount paid to Daniels as "a nuisance settlement."

"It’s to make a problem, an embarrassing problem, go away," Tacopina said.

Asked why then-President Trump later denied knowing anything about the payment, Tacopina said his client was trying to honor the no-disclosure agreement Daniels had signed.

"If he acknowledged that, he would be violating the confidential settlement. So, is it the truth? Of course it’s not the truth. Was he supposed to tell the truth? He would be in violation of the agreement if he told the truth. So, by him doing that, by him doing that, he was abiding by not only his rights, but Stormy Daniels’ rights," Tacopina said.

The DA's investigation appears to be nearing an end — prosecutors last week invited Trump to testify before the grand jury, which is typically an indicator in New York state criminal cases that an investigation is about to wrap up. Trump declined the invitation.

Tacopina added, "We are shocked it has gotten this far."

"I still hold out hope that they’re not going to do this, because I think this will be an enormous stain on the legacy of that district attorney," he said, adding charges would help his client's 2024 presidential bid. "If they bring this case, I believe this will catapult him into the White House. I believe it, because this will show how they’re weaponizing the justice system."