Trump Acknowledges Financial 'Liability' For Stormy Daniels Payment

May 16, 2018
Originally published on May 16, 2018 6:07 pm

Updated at 5:40 p.m. ET

In his annual disclosure of personal finances, President Trump acknowledged that he paid lawyer Michael Cohen between $100,000 and $250,000 last year.

Both Cohen and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani have said some of that money was to reimburse Cohen for a $130,000 hush money settlement with adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who says she had an affair with Trump.

Trump's revelation came in his signed disclosure report, required by federal ethics law. The Office of Government Ethics flagged the disclosure in a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in 2016.

The money owed to Cohen wasn't listed on Trump's 2017 report, although the disclosure should include current liabilities of $10,000 or more. Giuliani has discussed the debt in TV appearances and told The Washington Post Trump owed Cohen $250,000.

The disclosure prompted the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to ask the Justice Department for a criminal investigation. The complaint alleges that Cohen's payments on Trump's behalf amounted to a loan to Trump, which Trump knew about and failed to include in his 2017 disclosure.

It was a complaint by CREW last week that prompted the Justice Department and OGE to investigate the omission of the Cohen liability from the 2017 report. CREW asked whether the omission was "knowing and willful," the term that would define a violation of the law.

When a federal official signs a personal financial disclosure, it's a certification that the information is complete and correct. Trump's lawyers initially tried to submit the 2017 report without his signature; they argued it wasn't necessary since the ethics law allows a new president to skip the report due just four months after inauguration. Walter Shaub Jr., then OGE director, pushed back. Trump eventually signed the document and submitted it nearly a month late.

In an interview with NPR, Shaub said Trump's lawyers never asked OGE last year whether the payments to Cohen should be disclosed. He said, "It strikes me as something they didn't want the answer to."

A separate but related question is whether the payment to Daniels, coming just a few days before the 2016 election, was related to Trump's run for the White House. That would make it a campaign expense — an illegal one because it wasn't made with campaign contributions or disclosed on campaign financial reports.

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