Trump disclosure of Cohen payment raises new legal questions

Attorney Michael Cohen in New York. (Mary Altaffer, AP, File)
Attorney Michael Cohen in New York. (Mary Altaffer, AP, File)

US President Donald Trump revealed in his financial disclosure on 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.

READ: Trump reimbursed personal lawyer Cohen $130k for payment to porn star - Giuliani

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.

But Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told Fox News Channel's Laura Ingraham that he didn't think the repayment "had to be disclosed at all because I think it was an expenditure that he reimbursed".

Ethics

He also the president was "fully aware" of his decision to reveal the fact that Trump had reimbursed Cohen in a previous Fox News appearance and "endorsed the strategy".

"We wouldn't do it without him," Giuliani said on The Ingraham Angle.

''He's the client, after all, and has tremendous judgement about things like this. And I think it - that the OGE, the Office of Government Ethics, basically agreed with us that it had been fully disclosed.

"The fact is that the president disclosed everything that he could disclose. He can't disclose more than he knows. And we're very comfortable with it," he added.

But ethics experts say that if that payment was knowingly and wilfully 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.

Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, tweeted: "Mr Trump's disclosure today conclusively proves that the American people were deceived."

The tweet continued: "This was NOT an accident and it was not isolated. Cover-ups should always matter."

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.

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