Porn star’s payment by Trump lawyer is questioned
Watchdogs seek clarity on ‘private transaction’
WASHINGTON – The assertion by President Trump’s personal lawyer that he used his own money “to facilitate” a six-figure payment to an ex-porn star who claimed an affair with Trump does not resolve who made the payoff, government watchdogs said Wednesday as they renewed their call for federal regulators to investigate.
In a carefully worded statement issued late Tuesday night, Michael Cohen said he used “my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000” to Stephanie Clifford in the weeks before the election. Clifford, who uses the stage name Stormy Daniels, claimed she started an affair with Trump in 2006.
Cohen said that neither the “Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign” reimbursed him for the payment — but the statement is notably silent on the potential involvement of Trump or any other individuals.
“We know that the money passed through Michael Cohen, but his statement doesn’t change the fact that we need a Department of Justice or FEC (Federal Election Commission) investigation to get to the bottom of this,” said Paul Ryan, a top official with Common Cause, which filed complaints contending the payment was an illegal, in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign.
Ryan called Cohen’s statement “another instance of Team Trump ... hiding from the public information that the public has a right to know.”
Cohen did not respond to an email and telephone call Wednesday from USA TODAY seeking more information. White House officials did not immediately respond to an inquiry about Cohen’s assertions. In his statement, first provided to The New York Times, Cohen called the payment to Clifford a “private transaction” and said it did not amount to “a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”
The statement was the first time Cohen acknowledged any role in the payment to the adult film actress.
The Wall Street Journal in January reported that Cohen created a limited liability company in Delaware, several weeks before the 2016 election. A bank account tied to that company sent the payment to a client-trust account controlled by Clifford’s attorney, the newspaper found.
In his statement, Cohen said his lawyer would make similar comments to the FEC in response to the Common Cause complaint.
Campaign-finance experts say partisan politics in Washington makes it unlikely that any federal agency will take up the investigation. Congress is controlled by Republicans, and the FEC typically deadlocks along party lines when it considers potential campaign-finance violations.
“We have a situation where the president’s personal lawyer pays hush money to a porn star, and the president’s party doesn’t abandon this guy,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of the nonprofit group Issue One and an expert on government ethics.
Stephanie Clifford goes by the stage name Stormy Daniels.