Expert: Trump lawyer's attempt to do "damage control" on TV may have done the opposite

Attorney Joe Tacopina claimed Trump's false claim was not a "lie" because it was not made under "oath"

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published March 16, 2023 3:37PM (EDT)

Former President Donald Trump stands at a ‘Save America’ rally on July 22, 2022 in Prescott Valley, Arizona. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump stands at a ‘Save America’ rally on July 22, 2022 in Prescott Valley, Arizona. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump's new lawyer struggled to defend his client's actions ahead of a possible indictment in Manhattan over the 2016 hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels. 

Attorney Joe Tacopina, who appeared on multiple news networks this week, laid out Trump's defense for his role in the $130,000 payment by lodging a series of questionable claims.

"When individuals facing charges are public figures, I think they sometimes want to engage in damage control in the court of public opinion," former federal prosecutor Barb McQuade told Salon.

But Tacopina's appearance on MSNBC's "The Beat with Ari Melber" may have done the opposite. 

Melber during the interview questioned Tacopina about why Trump lied at the time that he did not know about his then-attorney Michael Cohen's payment to Daniels. The attorney disputed that Trump lied, arguing that the former president didn't lie since the statement was not made under oath. 

"A lie to me is something material, under oath, in a proceeding," Tacopina said

He went on to clarify why he didn't consider Trump's statement to not be a lie.

"Here's why it's not a lie," Tacopina said. "Because it was a confidential settlement so if he acknowledged that, he would be violating the confidential settlement. 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, he was abiding not only by his rights, but Stormy Daniels' rights. I would advise my client to do the same thing." 

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Cohen testified that he made the payment during the 2016 campaign and was later reimbursed by Trump. He was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to multiple federal crimes, including campaign finance violations related to the payment.

"Lawyers can say things a client can't because the client's words could be used against him at trial," McQuade said. "A lawyer's public statements are not evidence in a case against the client, so it is a low risk way to advocate publicly for the client."

While Trump's other attorneys are handling the actual legal work, Tacopina has been busy making cable news rounds, fighting a PR battle. He recently appeared on CNN criticizing Cohen.

"(Manhattan District Attorney) Alvin Bragg once said — I hope he remembers these words — he can't see a world in which he would base a prosecution of Donald Trump on the word of a convicted puncher and felon like Michael Cohen," Tacopina said. "He is still a convicted perjurer, someone convicted of lying, and it's not about vengeance; it's all about vengeance for him."

Cohen in a subsequent appearance on CNN called Tacopina "a fool" and said he was sent out by Trump to "lie" and continue pushing out a narrative that pleases the former president. 

"What this is is about accountability," Cohen said. "I don't want to see anyone, including Donald Trump, indicted, prosecuted, convicted, incarcerated simply because I fundamentally disagree with him. This is all about accountability. He needs to be held accountable for his dirty deeds."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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Alvin Bragg Donald Trump Furthering Joe Tacopina Politics Stormy Daniels