Filing shows Trump paid his lawyer

Questions raised over whether President's disclosure improperly omitted the debt

By Steve Eder, Eric Lipton and Ben Protess
  • Published 18.05.18
President Donald Trump (top) and Michael D. Cohen

New York: President Trump's financial disclosure, released on Wednesday, included for the first time repayment of more than $100,000 to his personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, in 2017, raising questions about whether Trump's sworn filing from a year ago improperly omitted the debt.

In a highly unusual letter, the Office of Government Ethics alerted the justice department on Wednesday to the omission, telling Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, that the ethics office had determined "the payment made by Cohen is required to be reported as a liability".

Trump's financial disclosure, released by the Office of Government Ethics, did not specify the purpose of the payment. However, Cohen has paid $130,000 to a pornographic film actress, Stephanie Clifford, who has said she had an affair with Trump.

Cohen has said he made the payment shortly before the 2016 election as hush money for Clifford, who goes by the stage name Stormy Daniels. Trump repaid Cohen $100,001 to $250,000 in 2017, according to a footnote in the filing.

David J. Apol, the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, sent Rosenstein a copy of Trump's current and previous financial form, noting in his letter that "you may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the President's prior report that was signed on June 14, 2017".

The letter is not an official referral and does not constitute a finding of wrongdoing, according to lawyers.

The hush payment has been a source of controversy for Trump, who initially said on Air Force One that he was unaware of the payment to Clifford before acknowledging its existence in a series of Twitter posts this month.

Trump said that he repaid a $130,000 payment that Cohen made to Clifford just days before the presidential election in 2016 and suggested that the payment by Cohen to the actress could not be considered a campaign contribution.

Trump's lawyers, who prepared the document that was released on Wednesday, said that Trump was reporting the repaid debt "in the interest of transparency" but declared in the footnote that the transaction was "not required to be disclosed as reportable liabilities".

Critics of Trump seized on the repaid debt as proof that the President should have included it in last year's statement, which was filed voluntarily in June and signed by Trump under a line that said, "I certify that the statements I have made in this report are true, complete and correct to the best of my knowledge."

Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in a statement that the inclusion of the payment on this year's form "raises serious questions as to why it was not disclosed in last year's filing".

The group, known as CREW, had filed a complaint with the justice department and the ethics office asking for an investigation into whether the payment constituted a loan. Under federal law, an official who "knowingly and willfully falsifies information" on a financial disclosure could face criminal charges.

Marilyn L. Glynn, who served as the general counsel at the Office of Government Ethics from 1997 to 2008, said that the letter to the justice department was significant and that if Trump intentionally filed an inaccurate disclosure last year, he may have violated the law.

New York Times News Service