President Trump complied with financial disclosure requirements in reporting a payment of more than $100,000 to attorney Michael Cohen, who paid hush-money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, the Office of Government Ethics said Wednesday.
But OGE said the president should have disclosed the reimbursement to Mr. Cohen in last year’s report, and it notified Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein of the lapse for any possible investigation.
“OGE has concluded that the information related to the payment made by Mr. Cohen is required to be reported and that the information provided meets the disclosure requirement for a reportable liability under the Ethics in Government Act,” said OGE Acting Director David J. Apol.
The report filed by the president says he “fully reimbursed” Mr. Cohen in the range of $100,000 to $250,000 during 2017. Mr. Cohen paid $130,000 to Ms. Daniels, who alleges a brief affair with Mr. Trump in 2006, shortly before the presidential election in 2016.
“In 2016 expenses were incurred by one of Donald J. Trump’s attorneys, Michael Cohen,” the president reported on the financial disclosure report required of top federal officials. “Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Mr. Cohen in 2017. The category of value would be $100,001 — $250,000 and the interest rate would be zero.”
Earlier this year, Mr. Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he had not known about Mr. Cohen’s payment to Ms. Daniels.
Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani said earlier this month that Mr. Trump had reimbursed Mr. Cohen for the payment. The president later tweeted that he paid Mr. Cohen via a monthly retainer to stop what the president called “false and extortionist accusations.”
Mr. Apol flagged the disclosure in a letter to Mr. Rosenstein “because you may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the president’s prior [financial disclosure] report that was signed on June 14, 2017.”
Mr. Rosenstein oversees the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia and other matters.
A government watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the president’s disclosure of the liability to Mr. Cohen “raises serious questions” about why he didn’t disclose the repayment in last year’s filing.
“It is good that in the face of overwhelming evidence and public pressure, the president came clean about this liability on this year’s form, but we now have to wonder how many other liabilities for similar payments he has that he still has not disclosed because he has not been publicly called out on them, said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “If the [Justice] Department is not already investigating the president’s failure to disclose the loan last year, it should open an investigation immediately.”
Congressional Democrats blasted the president for the revelation, saying it underscored their calls for an investigation that has been ignored by the GOP majority.
“Today’s determination by the Office of Government Ethics confirms exactly the concerns I raised more than a week ago in a letter asking Chairman Trey Gowdy to investigate President Trump’s payments and whether they violated federal law,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, top Democrat on the House Government Oversight Committee. “President Trump was required by law to report that he ‘funneled’ money through Michael Cohen to reimburse a secret payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, but he concealed these payments, and we still do not know why.”
He said it is time for congressional Republicans “to stop shielding President Trump from congressional oversight.”
Former OGE director Walter Shaub, who resigned from the post last year and has clashed with the president, questioned whether the Justice Department will “step up and do its job.”
“If DOJ investigates and determines that President Trump knew of his debt to Cohen when he filed last year’s report, there will be reason to suspect that his omission of the debt from last year’s report was ‘knowing and willful,’ which would be a crime,” said Mr. Shaub, now an official at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington. “I note that no one from the Trump camp asked OGE last year whether the debt was reportable and that, instead, President Trump’s attorney asked OGE to allow him to be the first filer in history to be excused from the obligation to certify that his report was true.”
The 92-page report lists Mr. Trump’s more than 200 property holdings, including Trump Tower in New York and his private Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, valued at more than $50 million.
For the period from January 2017 to this month, the president reported income of well over $35 million, with the exact amount difficult to determine because the form asks only for ranges — for example, between $1 million and $5 million for a given asset.