Giuliani tries to clarify comments on Trump’s reimbursement of payment to porn star

President Donald Trump's new lawyer Rudy Giuliani sought Friday to clean up a series of comments made during a whirlwind media tour meant to bolster the president's standing regarding a payment to a porn star but that instead created new problems for his client.

In a statement issued hours after Trump told reporters Giuliani was still getting up to speed on the facts, the former New York mayor said that a $130,000 payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels by longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen would have happened regardless of whether Trump was on the presidential ballot the following month.

"The payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the President's family," Giuliani said in the statement. "It would have been done in any event, whether he was a candidate or not."

On Wednesday, Giuliani revealed that the president had reimbursed Cohen for the settlement Cohen paid in October 2016 to keep Daniels from disclosing details of a sexual encounter she alleged she had with Trump a decade earlier.

Giuliani has said that the details of the reimbursement showed that Trump paid back Cohen because it was a personal, not a campaign expense. But campaign finance law experts said Giuliani's remarks did not rule out violations of campaign finance laws, and some of his statements may have actually provided new evidence for investigators.

Appearing Thursday on the Fox News Channel, for instance, Giuliani asked viewers to imagine if Daniels had aired her allegations "on Oct. 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton."

"Cohen didn't even ask," Giuliani told viewers. "Cohen made it go away. He did his job."

In his statement, Giuliani also sought to make clear that he speaking in television interviews about his understanding of events in which Trump had been involved and not about what the president knew at the time. The distinction is important because if Giuliani publicly described a private conversation with the president, he might have inadvertently waived attorney-client privilege on that conversation, potentially opening the door for prosecutors to probe further into what was said.

Giuliani also stated that it was "undisputed" that Trump had the constitutional power to fire former FBI director James Comey, which he did last year. Trump's action is among those under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Muller as part of his investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

"Recent revelations about former Director Comey further confirm the wisdom of the President's decision, which was plainly in the best interests of our nation," Giuliani said.

In saying that Trump had the power to Comey, Giuliani appeared to be backing away from an assertion he made earlier this week that the president acted out of frustration that Comey wouldn't publicly state that the president was not under investigation by the FBI.

That earlier statement raised concerns among some legal experts who said Giuliani seemed to say Comey was fired over the Russia investigation – and such an admission could further an obstruction of justice probe involving the president.

Cohen is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York for possible bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations, according to people familiar with the matter. FBI agents searched Cohen's house, office, and hotel room.

In early April, after Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he was unaware of the settlement that Cohen had paid to Daniels.

Since Giuliani began discussing these matters publicly two days ago, the White House has been besieged with questions about their past denials of the president's knowledge, and on Friday morning, Trump suggested Giuliani had misspoken.

"Rudy is a great guy, but he just started a day ago, but he really has his heart into it, he's working hard, he's learning the subject matter," Trump told reporters as he prepared to leave the White House.

"He knows it's a witch hunt," Trump continued. "He'll get his facts straight."

Trump talked to reporters again Friday after taking a helicopter from the White House to Joint Base Andrews and before departing to Dallas, where he is addressing a gathering of the National Rifle Association Friday afternoon.

"Rudy's great," Trump said there. adding: "He wasn't totally familiar with everything."

On Thursday morning, Trump issued a trio of carefully worded tweets, largely echoing the points Giuliani had made in his Wednesday night interview.

In a brief telephone interview later Friday, Giuliani said the episode has not hurt his standing with Trump.

"He says he loves me," Giuliani said, calling the issue a matter of "interpretation."

On the campaign trail, Trump saw Giuliani as a loyal surrogate – and the two men even watched sports together riding back from events.

But Giuliani and Trump have never been close friends, associates say, and Giuliani was upset by his treatment during the transition – when he was passed over for secretary of state by Trump's eventual choice of businessman Rex Tillerson.

Over recent months, Giuliani has occasionally spoken to the president but has not been in his coterie of close advisers.

Trump also said Friday that if he could be treated fairly he would "love to speak" to federal prosecutors investigating ties between his campaign and Russia. He said he would do so even over the objections of his lawyers – if he could be convinced the Russia probe is not a "witch hunt."

"I would love to speak. I would love to go," Trump said. "Nothing I want to do more, because we did nothing wrong."

But, he added, "I have to find that we're going to be treated fairly. … Right now, it's a pure witch hunt."

Those comments come as Trump's lawyers are continuing to negotiate with special Muller about the conditions of a possible interview.

Trump and his lawyers have said in recent days that they fear Mueller is trying to trap Trump into committing perjury during an extended interview. Mueller has suggested Trump could be subpoenaed if he doesn't voluntarily talk.

Trump also complained that there are too many "angry Democrats" on Mueller's team. He did not mention that Mueller himself is a Republican.

"Why aren't we having Republican people doing what these Democratic people are doing?" Trump asked.

Senior White House staffer were caught off guard Wednesday by Giuliani's first appearance on Fox News when he disclosed that Trump had repaid Daniels. White House press secretary told reporters on Thursday that she had not learned about the repayment until seeing Giuliani on television that night.

On Friday, a person close to the White House said Giuliani was still not consulting with White House counsel Donald McGahn nor Emmet Flood, the White House attorney recently hired to handle the Russia investigation.

The person, who requested anonymity to speak more candidly, said it is possible that Giuliani had a strategy in mind but that it wasn't clear.

On Friday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who ran President Trump's campaign in its closing months, said that she was not aware at the time that Cohen made the $130,000 payment.

"I had never heard about that during the campaign," Conway told reporters at the White House. "I was the campaign manager. A lot crossed my desk."

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The Washington Post's Carol D. Leonnig and Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.