Amid accusations that he might be guilty of breaking campaign finance law, on May 3, President Trump tweeted that in 2017 he reimbursed his embattled personal attorney Michael Cohen for his payment of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels for her signature on a nondisclosure agreement about her alleged one-night affair with Trump in 2006.
On Wednesday, Trump released a financial disclosure report confirming that he did in fact reimburse Cohen for the expenses he incurred in 2016. According to the report, Trump "fully reimbursed Mr. Cohen" for unspecified "expenses" from 2016 of between $100,001 to $250,000.
A footnote to the disclosure states that the expense claimed by Cohen was "not required to be disclosed as 'reportable liabilities'" on the form, but was being reported "in the interest of transparency."
The Office of Government Ethics Acting Director Dave Apol said in a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Wednesday that Cohen's payment, which was not revealed in the 2016 filing, "is required to be reported as a liability" — a conclusion that former Obama OGE Director Walter Shaub said is "tantamount to a criminal referral," CNBC notes.
In his letter to Rosenstein, Apol explains that the interest group Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint to the OGE and Justice Department asking if Cohen's $130,000 payment to Daniels should be considered a loan to Trump and thus reported as a liability for 2016. The group also wanted to know if the failure to disclose it was "knowing and willful."
The OGE concluded that the information detailing the payment by Cohen and the reimbursement by Trump "meets the disclosure requirements for a reportable liability under the Ethics in Government Act," wrote Apol, who sent both reports to Rosenstein "because 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."
Trump and Cohen have both stated publicly that Trump did not know about the agreement with Daniels at the time it was arranged. Asked in early April about where Cohen got the money to pay Daniels, Trump told the press that he did not know. However, about a month later, a few days after his legal adviser Rudy Giuliani made the claim on TV, Trump posted a series of tweets acknowledging for the first time that he had reimbursed Cohen in 2017 through a retainer: