US President Donald Trump's financial disclosure lists reimbursement to his former attorney Michael Cohen, who paid hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels, shedding new light on a scandal involving an alleged sexual encounter between her and Trump.
US President Donald Trump acknowledged for the first time in an ethics disclosure released on Wednesday that he repaid more than $100,001 to former personal attorney Michael Cohen, shedding new light on a scandal involving Trump and porn star Stormy Daniels.
The disclosure, signed by Trump and released by the US Office of Government Ethics, did not describe the purpose or the recipient of the original 2016 payment to a "third party" made by Cohen, for which he was reimbursed by Trump.
But Cohen has acknowledged paying Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in a transaction meant to buy her silence about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter between her and Trump.
"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.
Rudy Giuliani, who recently became the Republican president's new personal attorney, has said Trump reimbursed Cohen for the original $130,000 payment, which was made shortly before Trump's victory in the November 8, 2016 presidential election.
The ethics disclosure draws a clearer connection between Trump and Cohen and further underlines inconsistencies in descriptions provided by Trump and aides about the payments.
Trump had previously disputed whether he was aware of the payment by Cohen and whether he reimbursed his attorney. In April, Trump told reporters he did not know anything about the payment. His disclosure now suggests Trump repaid Cohen last year.
Trump, his campaign and Cohen have all denied any wrongdoing.
Giuliani told Fox News that the president was "fully aware" of the disclosure and "endorsed the strategy."
"We wouldn't do it without him," Giuliani said on "The Ingraham Angle," according to an excerpt provided by the network. "He's the client, after all, and has tremendous judgment about things like this. And I think it — that the OGE, the Office of Government Ethics, basically agreed with us that it has been fully disclosed. I have a little disagreement with them, but it's a petty one. I don't believe it had to be disclosed at all."
But ethics experts say that if that payment was knowingly and willfully left out, Trump could be in violation of federal ethics laws
The acting director of the ethics office, David Apol, said in a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that the original payment made by Cohen should have been disclosed in ethics documents that Trump filed in June 2017. Apol's letter was released with the Trump disclosures.
The payment has been central to complaints filed by watchdog groups alleging that Trump, his campaign and Cohen violated campaign finance laws when Daniels was paid shortly before the election and then further broke the law when the payment was not disclosed in previous filings.
Ethics disclosures are an annual requirement for senior federal officials and are overseen by the ethics office, a government watchdog that provides oversight of an executive branch program to prevent and resolve conflicts of interest.
Trump's latest disclosure filing said Cohen incurred the expense in 2016 and that Cohen "sought reimbursement" in 2017. "Mr Trump fully reimbursed Mr Cohen," the report said.
The payment made by Cohen was between $100,001 and $250,000 and there was no interest incurred, the report said.
On May 2, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who joined Trump's personal legal team in April, said Trump had reimbursed Cohen for the payment.
Cohen has publicly acknowledged paying Daniels, saying he obtained the cash through a line of credit on his home. Daniels has sued to be released from the nondisclosure agreement.
In April, the FBI raided Cohen's offices and home as part of a criminal investigation, drawing Trump's ire.
The ethics disclosure also contained information on Trump's personal businesses.
For instance, it showed that Trump received more than $25 million in income in 2017 from Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Florida, and more than $15 million in income from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Trump spends time and vacations at both clubs.
While Trump's annual ethics disclosure reveals information about his personal finances, it lacks details of the sort found in an income tax return. Unlike past presidents of both parties in recent decades, Trump has refused to release his tax returns.
When Trump took office, he refused to fully divest from his global business, instead putting his assets in a trust controlled by his two sons and a senior executive. Trump can take back control of the trust at any time and he's allowed to withdraw cash from it as he pleases.