Donald Trump

Donald Trump repaid Michael Cohen the same year Stormy Daniels was given US$130,000 not to talk about ‘affair’, ethics office says

Trump wrote in a mandatory filing that Cohen was “fully reimbursed in 2017” for expenses made in 2016 – the year Daniels was paid off. The disclosure was not included in his 2017 filing, leading to a rebuke from the Office of Government Ethics

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 2:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 3:09am

US President Donald Trump repaid his lawyer Michael Cohen at least US$100,001 for an expense that occurred in 2016 – the year Cohen paid off porn star Stormy Daniels over an alleged affair with Trump, the director of the Office of Government Ethics said on Wednesday. 

Cohen paid Daniels US$130,000 in hush money shortly before the presidential election on November 8, 2016; Cohen said he used his own home equity line of credit to do so, and Trump previously denied knowledge of the payment. Then, two weeks ago, those claims were contradicted by Trump’s latest addition to his legal team, Rudy Giuliani.

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Now, in a mandatory filing to the ethics office, Trump has admitted that “in 2016 expenses were incurred by one of Donald J Trump’s attorneys, Michael Cohen” totalling between US$100,001 and US$250,000. The filing says that Trump “fully reimbursed Mr. Cohen in 2017”. The disclosure was not included in Trump’s 2017 filing.

On Wednesday the director of the ethics office, David Apol, said that Trump should have reported the payment to Cohen last year. 

The Office of Government Ethics “has concluded that, based on the information provided as a note to part 8, the payment made to Mr. Cohen is required to be reported as a liability,” Apol said in a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

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Apol’s agency released Trump’s 2018 disclosure on Wednesday. Under ethics rules, officials report the value of their assets and the amount of their income in broad ranges.

In last year’s disclosure, Trump reported making at least US$528.9 million – a number that appears to mix total revenue from his businesses with income – from January 2016 through April 15, 2017.

Both Trump and Cohen have claimed that the president was unaware of the payment, which was made to Daniels – whose real name is Stephanie Clifford – to stop her talking about the affair just before the 2016 election. Trump has denied any relationship with Daniels.

But two weeks ago, Giuliani – in one of his first interviews as Trump’s latest lawyer – claimed that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the payment to Daniels. And that has only created further complications for all involved.

Giuliuani, speaking to Fox News’ Sean Hannity – himself one of Cohen’s clients – was trying to head off claims that Cohen was repaid using the president’s campaign money, which could constitute a campaign finance violation.

“I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know. It's not campaign money. No campaign finance violation,” Giuliani said, because those in charge of paying off Daniels “funnelled it through [Cohen’s] law firm, and the president repaid [Cohen].”

In the wake of the remarks, critics said that Trump had still broken campaign finance laws because he had not declared the payment to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). 

At the time, Walter Shaub, ex-director of the Office of Government Ethics, tweeted: “AMAZING! In trying to talk his way out of a campaign finance violation, Trump has inadvertently admitted to filing a false financial disclosure in 2017. He personally certified that his disclosure was ‘complete and correct’.”

Shaub noted that Trump’s lawyer had attempted to get an exemption allowing Trump to file without signing that the disclosure was “complete and correct” and said “it is pretty hard to believe this was not intentional”.

He added: “This seems like as strong a circumstantial case for a violation as one is going to see. It is absolutely stunning that we've reached the point where the President of the United States appears to have lied to U.S. Office of Government Ethics about a payoff to a porn star. ”