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WASHINGTON — Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz warned President Donald Trump’s legal team against playing “into the hands” of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He said on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” that they risked doing so with shifting accounts of the president's knowledge of a payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, for instance.
“It seems to me that the approach last week of the Trump team plays into the hands of Mueller's tactic to try, at any cost, to try to find technical violations against lower ranking people so that they can be squeezed,” Dershowitz said.
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Rudy Giuliani, who Trump brought on as legal counsel, said last week that the president reimbursed his personal attorney Michael Cohen for the $130,000 payment to Daniels. Giuliani's account contradicted Trump's previous statement that he didn't know of the payment.
“This is the way prosecutors operate,” Dershowitz added about Mueller's investigative methods. "But Giuliani knows it too and shouldn't be playing into their hands."
Dershowitz was clear that he feels it’s a “close case” on whether a $130,000 payment to Daniels days before the 2016 election violated any campaign finance laws, but he says if there were any violations, they don’t seem to be very substantial.
Guiliani has been caught in a rush of back-and-forths since first announcing that Trump ultimately repaid the $130,000 sum of cash that Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen sent to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Giuliani again defended the payment Saturday night and reiterated that he felt it was not a violation of any laws.
“The president of the United States did not in any way violate the campaign finance law,” he said on Fox News. “Every campaign finance expert, Republican and Democrat, will tell you that if it was for another purpose other than just campaigns, even if it was for campaign purposes, if it was to save his family, to save embarrassment. It's not a campaign donation. And second, even if it was a campaign donation, the president reimbursed it fully with a payment of $35,000 a month.”
Dershowtiz on Sunday also criticized the overall media strategy of Trump’s legal team, including interviews like the ones Giuliani has done since becoming one of the president's attorneys.
“The Trump team has to speak with a single narrative," he said. "They have to get their story clearly set out. It has to be put in writing. It shouldn't be put on television shows off the cuff. This is not the way to handle a complicated case."
Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Daniels, meanwhile, called an assertion from Guiliani earlier this week that $130,000 is a minor payment “absurd.”
"I think it’s just ridiculous" Avenatti said on "Meet The Press." "I think it's just another absurdity that's being trotted out to the American people to deflect away from the facts...They expect the American people to believe that a woman came out of the woodwork, was lying, was not being honest? They had absolutely no reason to believe that this had happened and they just took $130,000 out of their pocket and paid her? I mean, it's absurd.”
Guiliani claimed in an interview earlier this week with The Washington Post that if Daniels was being truthful about her allegations of an affair with Trump, she would have been paid more. Trump and his attorneys have denied an affair ever took place.
"If somebody made an allegation against one of my clients that wasn’t true, and accepted $135,000 to settle it, I know the public may think the settlement may mean an admission of guilt, but it’s not...If you’re talking $5 or $6 million, now you’d have something different," he told the paper. The Washington Post notes it's unclear why Giuliani said $135,000 when the payment was actually $130,000.
Avenatti repeatedly declined to say whether or not he or his client have ever been approached by Mueller and his team.
Giuliani told ABC on Sunday that he wasn’t aware of any other payments from Cohen to other women on behalf of Trump, but also didn’t rule it out. “I have no knowledge of that, but I would think if it was necessary, yes,” he said.