Disclosure of Trump’s payment to attorney Cohen for ‘expenses’ raises legal issue
NEW YORK — President Donald Trump revealed in his financial disclosure Wednesday that he reimbursed personal attorney Michael Cohen as much as $250,000 for unspecified “expenses,” with no mention of a $130,000 payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about a sexual tryst she said they had.
The head of the nation’s ethics office questioned why Trump didn’t include this in his previous year’s sworn disclosure and passed along his concerns to federal prosecutors.
“I am providing both reports to you because you may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing,” David Apol, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, wrote to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Apol wrote that he considers Trump’s payment to Cohen to be a repayment on a loan and that it was required to be included in Trump’s June 2017
disclosure. Ethics experts says that if that payment was knowingly and willfully left out, Trump could be in violation of federal ethics laws.
“This is a big deal and unprecedented. No President has been previously subject to any referral by (Office of Government Ethics) to DOJ as a result of having failed to report an item on their public financial disclosure report,” said Virginia Canter, a former ethics official in the Clinton and Obama White Houses who is now with the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Questions about Cohen’s actions grew Wednesday after The Washington Post reported that he solicited a payment of at least $1 million from the government of Qatar in late 2016, in exchange for access to and advice about the then-incoming administration, according to several people with knowledge of the episode.
The offer, which Qatar declined, came on the margins of a Dec. 12, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower between the Persian Gulf state’s foreign minister and Michael Flynn, who became Trump’s first national security adviser. Steve Bannon, who became chief White House strategist, also attended, the people said.
Cohen did not participate in the official meetings but spoke separately to a member of the Qatari delegation, Ahmed al-Rumaihi, who at the time was head of the investments division of the country’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority.
Cohen and his lawyer did not respond to a request for comment. Qatar’s Embassy in Washington declined to comment on the revelations.
How Trump dealt with the Daniels hush money in his disclosure has been closely watched, particularly after his attorney Rudy Giuliani gave interviews earlier this month saying the president had reimbursed Cohen in a series of payments after the campaign was over. Trump and Giuliani have clashed over what the president knew and when he knew it.
In a footnote in tiny type on Page 45 of his 92-page disclosure, Trump said he reimbursed Cohen for “expenses” ranging from $100,001 to $250,000. The report said the president did not have to disclose the payment but was doing so “in the interest of transparency.”
While the disclosure didn’t specify the purpose of the payment, Cohen has said he paid $130,000 to Daniels in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election to keep her from going public about her allegations that she had sex with the married Trump in 2006.
Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, tweeted, “Mr. Trump’s disclosure today conclusively proves that the American people were deceived.”
The Trump Organization referred questions about the disclosure report to the president’s lawyer Sheri Dillon of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Dillon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Cohen footnote appears in a report giving the first extended look at Trump’s income from his properties since he became president. In all, Trump took in at least $453 million from hotels, resorts, books and other business ventures.
His Washington, D.C., hotel near the Oval Office, a magnet for diplomats and lobbyists, took in $40 million. His Doral golf course and resort in Miami took in $75 million. His Mar-aLago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, received $25 million, and his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., generated $15 million.
Some of the 12-month figures for his properties are down from his previous report, but that earlier report covered about 16 months and so it is not directly comparable.
The figures are before expenses and so give no indication of how much profit the president made off the properties.
Trump has at least $315 million in debt, about the same as he reported a year ago.
President Donald Trump paid attorney Michael Cohen, above, as much as $250,000, but did not report it on his June 2017 financial disclosure.
The head of the nation’s ethics office questioned why President Donald Trump didn’t include a payment to personal attorney Michael Cohen on his June 2017 report.