Ethics office says Trump should have disclosed Stormy Daniels payment

The Office of Government Ethics on Wednesday said a payment made in 2016 by President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney to an adult film actress should have been included on the president’s financial disclosure form that was filed last year.

Trump’s most recent disclosure form, a 92-page document released Wednesday by the OGE, showed the president reimbursed attorney Michael Cohen in 2017 for his $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had an affair with Trump.

"In the interest of transparency, while not required to be disclosed as ‘reportable liabilities’ on Part 8, in 2016 expenses were incurred by one of Donald J. Trump’s attorneys, Michael Cohen," reads a footnote on page 45 of Trump’s form for the 2017 calendar year. "Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Mr. Cohen in 2017."

Despite the president’s characterization of his disclosure related to Cohen’s to Daniels as optional, the OGE’s acting director sent a letter Wednesday to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein noting that the president was required to have been reported as a liability a year earlier.

David Apol, the OGE’s acting director, said he was writing the letter because of a complaint from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington who asked the DOJ and OGE to probe whether the payment should have been reported on last year’s form and whether the failure to do so was knowing and willful.

"OGE has concluded that, based on the information provided as a note to part 8, the payment made by Mr. Cohen is required to be reported as a liability," Apol wrote, adding, "you may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the President’s prior report that was signed on June 14, 2017."

It’s not clear if DOJ is investigating the lack of disclosure.

Trump’s alleged involvement with Daniels came to light earlier this year, when the Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen had paid the adult film actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, $130,000 in October 2016 as part of a nondisclosure agreement related to a one-night sexual affair she claims to have had with the president in 2006. Daniels, who initially signed a letter denying the affair, is suing the president and Cohen to be released from the nondisclosure agreement and has spoken openly about her relationship with Trump, including their sexual encounter.

Both Trump and Cohen have denied that the president had the affair and Cohen initially argued that he entered the nondisclosure agreement with Daniels without the president’s knowledge and paid her with his own funds and was not reimbursed. Another of Trump’s attorneys, Rudy Giuliani, said earlier this month that the president had indeed reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 in the form of retainer payments.

The White House has been unclear in offering explanations for the discrepancy between Trump and Cohen’s assertion that the president did not know about and did not reimburse the payment to Daniels, and Giuliani’s disclosure earlier this month — confirmed Wednesday by Trump’s financial form — that the president paid Cohen back last year.

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