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May 16, 2018

Trump reports apparent payment through Michael Cohen to Stormy Daniels in new financial disclosure. May 16, 2018 | Politics | The Washington Post

Trump reports apparent payment through Michael Cohen to Stormy Daniels in new financial disclosure

In new financial-disclosure documents, President Trump reported reimbursing his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, more than $100,000 last year — an apparent reference to the $130,000 that Cohen paid just before the 2016 election, to ensure the silence of an adult-film actress who claimed she’d had an affair with Trump.
The information was included as a footnote in the 92-page form filed with the Office of Government Ethics, which said in an accompanying letter that Trump should have listed the payment as a liability in his previous financial statement and referred the documents to the Justice Department.
But Trump’s attorneys said the president was disclosing the payment voluntarily, not because it was required but “in the interest of transparency.”
“In 2016 expenses were incurred by one of Donald J. Trump’s attorneys, Michael Cohen,” Trump’s lawyers wrote. “Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Mr. Cohen in 2017. The category of value would be $100,001 — $250,000 and the interest rate would be zero.”
The disclosure forms, released annually, also provide a rare glimpse of the finances of Trump’s businesses — which he still owns, even while in the White House.
They showed Trump has at least $1.4 billion in assets. That figure is roughly the same as in 2017, although both numbers are hardly precise. The federal disclosure forms provide only broad ranges for the values of Trump’s properties and debts, which mean that both his assets and his liabilities may be significantly undercounted.
In this April 26 photo, Michael Cohen leaves federal court in New York City. (Seth Wenig/AP)
The forms, which covered all of calendar-year 2017, provided new details about how Trump’s businesses fared during his first year in office. They showed some successes. Trump’s hotel in downtown Washington — a hub for visiting lobbyists, Republican fundraisers, and some embassy parties — reported $40.8 million in revenue, about the same level as in 2017.
Paul Ryan, a vice president at Common Cause, a government watchdog group, said Trump’s disclosure bolsters its Federal Election Commission complaint that the payment should have been reported by the campaign. Whenever Trump learned of the payment to Daniels -- which is still unclear -- he should have directed the campaign to report it, Ryan said.
“Donald Trump’s reimbursement of Michael Cohen puts him in the middle of a campaign finance violation that he once denied knowing anything about,” Ryan said. “It’s a criminal violation because his payment amounts to knowledge that Cohen made this payment on his behalf, and campaign finance law violations become criminal violations when they are done knowingly and willingly.”
That statement was included on the 45th page of a 92-page disclosure. Trump said he was disclosing the payment, even though he did not believe he had to.
In another footnote, the Office of Government Ethics, which handles the financial-disclosure process for White House officials, said he had to.
“OGE has concluded that the information related to the payment made by Mr. Cohen is required to be reported and that the information provided meets the disclosure requirement for a reportable liability,” the agency said.
“I think this is very significant,” said Larry Noble, a Washington ethics lawyer who once served as general counsel to the Federal Election Commission. “I am not aware of any other time when the Office of Government Ethics has referred a sitting president to the Justice Department for review of a possible filing of a false ethics report.”
The carefully worded letter from OGE, he said suggests a number of potential problems for President Trump.
The president’s counsel has recently acknowledged that Cohen paid Stormy Daniels in late 2016, and that Trump later repaid Cohen for the expenditure.
“First, it raises the question of whether Donald Trump should have reported this on his 2016 ethics disclosure as a liability,” Noble said. If he later realized he had failed to disclose it, the law requires public officials to submit an immediate amendment.
Finally, since all of this happened in the context of a campaign it appears that this was “an illegal contribution by Cohen,” Noble said.
Finally, Noble said, “this is just another situation where we learn things from this administration that contradict things we were previously told and points to potential violations of law.”
More recently, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani — newly hired as part of Trump’s legal team — said in interviews that Trump had reimbursed Cohen for the payment. Trump this month also acknowledged on Twitter that he paid Cohen through a monthly retainer to stop what Trump called “false and extortionist accusations.”
The payment by Cohen to actress Stormy Daniels was made in the last weeks before the 2016 presidential election, as part of a non-disclosure agreement meant to ensure Daniels would not speak about the alleged affair publicly.
After the payment to Daniels was first revealed by the Wall Street Journal, Cohen acknowledged making the payment himself. He said he had not been reimbursed by Trump’s company or Trump’s campaign.
“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” Cohen said, using Daniels’s real name, Stephanie Clifford. The payment to Daniels was made via a limited-liability company, Essential Consultants, which Cohen had set up in 2016.
Cohen declined at the time to answer The Washington Post’s questions about whether Trump had personally reimbursed him, or if knew about the payment.
The Office of Government Ethics, which oversees the financial-disclosure documents, said in its own footnote that it had concluded Trump had to report the payment to Cohen in a section that detailed Trump’s legal liabilities over the course of 2017 and the first half of 2018.
“OGE has concluded that the information related to the payment made by Mr. Cohen is required to be reported and that the information provided meets the disclosure requirement for a reportable liability,” the agency said.
In addition, the Office of Government Ethics released a letter dated on Tuesday to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein saying that it had concluded that Trump was required to disclose this liability owed to Cohen.
Federal prosecutors in New York are already investigating Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen for a series of possible crimes, including bank fraud and campaign finance violations, according to people familiar with the matter.
As part of that investigation, FBI agents are trying to determine whether any laws were violated as part of a pattern or strategy of silencing damaging accounts about Trump that could have been made public during the election campaign, these people said.
That letter was written in response to a complaint from a watchdog organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which said that Trump should have reported the payments to Cohen in last year’s disclosures.
Noah Bookbinder, the watchdog group’s executive director, said Tuesday that Trump’s filing “suggests we were right in our previous complaint and raises serious questions as to why [the reimbursement to Cohen] was not disclosed in last year’s filing.”
Michael Avenatti, an attorney representing Daniels, on Tuesday questioned why Trump was acknowledging the payment — and his reimbursement of Cohen — now. “Was he lying then or was he lying now? He previously denied any knowledge of the agreement or the payment — and did so aboard Air Force One on video.”
Before taking office, Trump said he shifted day-to-day control of his business to his sons, primarily Eric Trump. But the president retains ownership of those businesses, through a trust, and can take money out of them at any time.
Emma Brown, Beth Reinhard, Devlin Barrett and Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.

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