WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump disclosed in a financial report filed with the government’s ethics watchdog Tuesday that he had reimbursed his personal lawyer more than $100,000 for unspecified expenses.
In his annual financial disclosure form, which was released by the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) on Wednesday, Trump acknowledged that he had “fully reimbursed” his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, in the range of $100,000 to $250,000 in 2016.
Trump’s lawyers have previously said the president reimbursed Cohen for $130,000 Cohen paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign to keep her quiet about a sexual tryst she said she had with Trump 10 years earlier.
Trump has denied the affair but recently confirmed reimbursing Cohen through a monthly retainer to stop “false and extortionist accusations” made by Daniels about an affair. Cohen has also acknowledged making the payment.
The disclosure said that while the payment to Cohen was not a “reportable” liability, Trump chose to list it “in the interest of transparency.” It did not say why Trump had left it out of his 2017 financial disclosure documents, though one of the president’s lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, has said that Trump didn’t know about the payment when he reported his finances last year.
Met ‘disclosure requirements’
The Office of Government Ethics, in a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, said it had determined that the payment to Cohen constituted a loan that should have been reported. However, it said the information Trump provided in his latest financial form met “the disclosure requirements for a reportable liability” under the Ethics in Government Act.
Under the Ethics in Government Act, top government officials are required to report all debts in excess of $10,000 during the previous reporting period. “Knowingly or willfully” falsifying or failing to file reports carries civil and criminal penalties. Trump listed several hundred million dollars in liabilities in his financial report.
Critics seized on the OGE’s letter to charge that Trump’s earlier omission of the payment could amount to a violation of federal laws on financial disclosures.
“If (the Department of Justice) investigates and determines that President Trump knew of his debt to Cohen when he filed last year’s report, there will be reason to suspect that his omission of the debt from last year’s report was ‘knowing and willful,’ which would be a crime,” Walter Shaub, a former OGE director and Trump critic now with the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement.
Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the OGE’s conclusion confirmed the concerns he recently raised about the Cohen payment.
“President Trump was required by law to report that he funneled money through Michael Cohen to reimburse a secret payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, but he concealed these payments, and we still do not know why,” Cummings said in a statement.
The White House has not responded to the criticism.
In March, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked the OGE and the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the matter, including whether Trump’s omission of the payment from his 2017 form was “knowing and willful.”
A Justice Department spokesman declined to say whether the agency is looking into the matter.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has sued both Trump and Cohen in an effort to dissolve a nondisclosure agreement she signed as part of the payment she received from Cohen. She contends the agreement is invalid because Trump never signed it.
Cohen arranged the payment through a company he set up in 2016, Essential Consultants LLC, which he used to solicit lobbying business after Trump’s election.
Federal prosecutors are investigating Cohen for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations. Last month FBI agents raided Cohen’s office, hotel room and house in New York and seized documents in connection with an investigation into the lawyer’s business practices.
He has not been charged with a crime.