Pres. Trump disclosure of Cohen payment raises new legal questions

US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, May 16, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump made no mention in his financial disclosure report Wednesday of a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged affair, but said in a footnote that he “fully reimbursed” his personal attorney for as much $250,000 for unspecified “expenses.”

The head of the nation’s ethics office questioned why President Trump didn’t include this in last year’s 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,” Office of Government Ethics Acting Director David Apol wrote to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Apol wrote that he considers President Trump’s payment to Cohen as a payment on a loan, and that it was required to be disclosed in President Trump’s June 2017 disclosure. Ethics experts said that if that money was a loan and knowingly and willfully not disclosed, President Trump could be in violation of ethics laws, a violation for which others have been prosecuted.

“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.

How President Trump dealt with the Stormy Daniels payment in his disclosure has been closely watched, particularly after his attorney Rudy Giuliani gave interviews earlier this month saying the president had repaid Cohen, a payment that had not shown up in President Trump’s report last year.

In a footnote in tiny type on page 45 of his 92-page disclosure, President 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.”

Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti tweeted, “Mr. Trump’s disclosure today conclusively proves that the American people were deceived.” … “This was NOT an accident and it was not isolated. Cover-ups should always matter.”

The footnote appears in a report giving the first extended look at President Trump’s income from his properties since he became president. The report shows he took in $75 million from his Miami golf course and resort last year, $25 million at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and $15 million from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

All those 12-month figures are down from the president’s previous report, but that earlier one covered about 14 months so it is not comparable.

When President 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. President Trump can take back control of the trust at any time and he’s allowed to withdraw cash from it as he pleases.