US president Donald Trump acknowledged for the first time in an ethics disclosure released on Wednesday that he repaid more than $100,000 (€84,575) to former personal attorney Michael Cohen, renewing questions about Mr Trump's ties to porn star Stormy Daniels.
The head of the nation’s ethics office questioned why Mr Trump did not 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 (OGE), wrote to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Mr Apol wrote that he considers Mr Trump’s payment to Michael Cohen to be a repayment on a loan and that it was required to be included in Mr Trump’s June 2017 disclosure.
Mr Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Fox News Channel’s Laura Ingraham that the US president was “fully aware” of the disclosure and “endorsed the strategy”.
“We wouldn’t do it without him,” Mr Giuliani said on The Ingraham Angle, according to an excerpt provided by the network.
“He’s the client, after all, and has tremendous judgment about things like this. And I think it — that the OGE, the Office of Government Ethics, basically agreed with us that it has been fully disclosed.
“I have a little disagreement with them, but it’s a petty one. I don’t believe it had to be disclosed at all.”
But ethics experts say that if that payment was knowingly and wilfully left out, Mr 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.
How Mr Trump dealt with the Daniels hush money in his disclosure has been closely watched, particularly after Mr Giuliani gave interviews earlier this month saying the president had reimbursed Mr Cohen in a series of payments after the campaign was over.
Mr Trump and Mr Giuliani have clashed over what the president knew and when he knew it.
In a footnote in tiny type on page 45 of his 92-page disclosure, Mr Trump said he reimbursed Mr Cohen for “expenses” ranging from $100,001 to $250,000 dollars (€211,473).
The report said the president did not have to disclose the payment but was doing so “in the interest of transparency”.
While the disclosure did not specify the purpose of the payment, Mr Cohen has said he paid $130,000 dollars (€109,967) ) to Ms Daniels in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election to keep her from going public about her allegations that she had sex with the married Mr Trump in 2006.
Ms 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 Organisation referred questions about the disclosure report to the president's lawyer Sheri Dillon of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.
Ms Dillon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Cohen footnote appears in a report giving the first extended look at Mr Trump’s revenue from his properties since he became president.
In all, Mr Trump’s vast array of assets — hotels, resorts, books, licensing deals and other business ventures — generated revenue last year of at least $453 million (€519m). The report estimated the holdings are worth at least $1.4 billion (€1.84 bn).
His Washington, DC, hotel near the Oval Office, a magnet for diplomats and lobbyists, took in $40 million (€33m).
His Doral golf course and resort in Miami took in $75 million (€63m). His Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, received $25 million (€21m), and his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, generated $15 million (€15m).–PA