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Trump Reported Daniels Payment to Cohen in New Financial Disclosure
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17 May 2018 12:56 PM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Donald Trump (Image source: Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Frankly, it's been hard to know what the truth is behind payments that were made to Stormy Daniels through Michael Cohen. Did Donald Trump know about it? Did he pay him back? Did it come from campaign funds? Several different stories were told. Finally comes evidence that shows Trump did pay it back. But is this something that is believable, or is he just trying to put this story to rest?

There have just been so many stories told, it's hard to even know where to start. Cohen, the president's personal attorney, initially said he used money from a home-equity line of credit and that Trump didn't pay him back for the hush money to keep Daniels quiet so that she would not divulge her affair with Trump. The payment was made to her in the closing weeks of the 2016 election.

Trump wasn't saying boo initially. He was uncharacteristically mute. However, pinned down by reporters on Air Force Once, he said he knew nothing about the settlement or the payments. 

But his new attorney, Rudy Giuliani, opened the floodgates saying Trump had paid the money back. For him to pay it, he had to know about. Both he and the president tried to weasel their way out of this statement and make it still coincide with previous statements, but they were never very sound explanations.

But in new financial-disclosure documents filed with the Office of Government Ethics that he must make as president, he reported paying Cohen more than $100,000 last year.

However, it was added as a footnote on the 92-page form, which leads to a question of why it wasn't noted within the main section of the document. The Office of Government Ethics has said they decided Trump should list the debt to his attorney in the "liabilities" section of the document. The Justice Department, who enforces the law regarding willfully omitting information, was notified as well.

Trump's legal team pointed out that he was disclosing this payment to Cohen voluntarily "in the interest of transparency."

They wrote, "In 2016 expenses were incurred by one of Donald J. Trump's attorneys, Michael Cohen." They continued, explaining, "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."

If this is the case, if Cohen was looking for reimbursement and was paid, then it brings up the question of why he stated earlier this year that Trump never paid him back.

Giuliani said in an interview that Trump didn't previously disclose this money as the attorneys didn't consider it to be a liability. But at some point, with all the misinformation around the payment, there are questions of whether it was in an effort to be hidden. If the Daniels story had never gone public, would this payment have ever been disclosed?

Regardless, the Office of Government Ethics had decided after Trump acknowledged reimbursing Cohen that it was the repayment of a debt and that he should list it along with his mortgages and real estate loans.

"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," said the agency.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit, still has some questions regarding the payment. They have filed a complaint stating that Trump should have also reported this debt on his 2017 financial disclosure forms that covered all of 2016 and the first four months of 2017.

This recent 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."

The Office of Government Ethics responded to that by sending a letter to the Justice Department, as the DOJ can sue and even prosecute any federal office who "knowingly and willfully" fail to report information on this form. 

In the letter to the DOJ the federal ethics agency said, "You may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the president's prior report."

 A Washington ethics lawyer, Larry Noble, believes this is significant, as he's not aware of any other time where a sitting president was the subject of a possible false ethics report.

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