Former President Donald Trump’s lawyer Joe Tacopina suggested in a 2018 interview that hush-money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels may have been illegal—statements that appear to complicate his defense of Trump as the former president could be indicted over the scheme as soon as Wednesday.
In the 2018 CNN clip, which resurfaced on Tuesday, Tacopina tells anchor Don Lemon that “if in fact” the payments were made in connection to Trump’s 2016 campaign “it’s an illegal agreement. It’s a fraud.”
Tacopina was speaking about federal prosecutors’ 2018 case against former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, in which Cohen pleaded guilty to five charges, including campaign finance violations, for paying adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her silence about her alleged 2006 affair with Trump.
Tacopina suggested in the 2018 interview that prosecutors had reason to be suspicious about the payments to Daniels, which Cohen admitted came from a home equity line of credit, telling Lemon, “Cohen again has made statements that would give rise to suspicion for any prosecutor to say ‘that doesn’t make sense.’”
Tacopina defended his statements as “hypothetical” on Tuesday, telling Forbes “there could be problems for Trump. . . if he paid it with campaign funds,” adding that the payments were not tied to Trump’s campaign finances or made with campaign funds.
Tacopina also faces allegations of a potential conflict of interest in Trump’s case after a separate March 2018 CNN interview was unearthed last week in which Lemon asked Tacopina about his impressions of Daniels after she approached him about representing her.
In that interview, Tacopina said he could not discuss his “impressions or any conversations” surrounding Daniels “because there is an attorney-client privilege that attaches even to a consultation.”
Tacopina’s link to Daniels drew criticism last week when NYU Professor Ryan Goodman pointed out in a series of tweets that the New York and American Bar Associations’ rules of professional conduct prohibit lawyers from representing clients in cases that could have an adverse impact on a former prospective client “if the lawyer received information from the prospective client that could be significantly harmful,” according to the ABA standards.
Tacopina said Tuesday there is “zero conflict,” telling Forbes: “I have never met this lady. I never spoke with this lady. I never read a document. She called my office asking one of my associates if I would be interested in representing her in this case. . . I quickly said no” (Tacopina previously told Law & Crime one of Daniels’ representatives called his office on her behalf).
Tacopina is representing Trump in the Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation of his role in the payments made to Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. The grand jury probing the evidence is wrapping up its work and could vote to indict Trump as soon as Wednesday—what would mark the first-ever indictment of a former president. Trump faces a possible charge of falsifying business records, since the Trump Organization reimbursed Cohen under a contract that falsely specified his services were for legal fees, federal prosecutors said in their 2018 case against Cohen. In that case, Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations after federal prosecutors determined the payments were made to sway the results of the 2016 presidential election.
What We Don’t Know
Whether Tacopina is under investigation over a potential conflict related to his ties to Daniels. The New York Appellate Court’s Attorney Grievance Committees are responsible for investigating attorney misconduct, and any complaints or investigations are not publicized until a finding is made.
Tacopina has claimed Daniels extorted Trump and cast doubt on the merits and motives of the Manhattan District Attorney’s case against his client in a series of interviews in recent weeks. Tacopina, along with Trump and his Republican allies, have claimed Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is leading a politically motivated investigation designed to hurt his prospects in the 2024 presidential election and has said that the case stands on shaky legal ground. Tacopina told Forbes on Tuesday Trump is “angry, as he should be,” because he’s being “politically persecuted.” Trump, henceforth, has denied he had an affair with Daniels.
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