Trump lawyer’s claim raises new questions about Stormy Daniels payment


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A new report from the WSJ alleges a lawyer representing President Trump arranged a $130,000 payment to a former adult film star one month before the 2016 presidential election to prevent her from discussing an alleged sexual encounter between her and Trump in 2006.
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON —  The assertion by President Trump’s personal lawyer that he used his own money “to facilitate” a six-figure payment to an ex-porn star who claimed an affair with Trump does not actually resolve who made the payoff, government watchdogs said Wednesday as they renewed their call for federal regulators to investigate. 

In a carefully worded statement issued late Tuesday night, Michael Cohen said he used “my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000” to Stephanie Clifford in the weeks before the election. Clifford, who uses the stage name Stormy Daniels, claimed she started an affair with Trump in 2006.

Cohen said that neither the “Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign” reimbursed him for the payment – but the statement is notably silent on the potential involvement of Trump or any other individuals.

“We know that the money passed through Michael Cohen, but his statement doesn’t change the fact that we need a Department of Justice or FEC (Federal Election Commission) investigation to get to the bottom of this,” said Paul Ryan, a top official with Common Cause, which filed complaints contending the payment was an illegal, in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign.

Ryan said Cohen’s statement “amounts to another instance of Team Trump hiding the ball and hiding from the public information that the public has a right to know.”

Cohen did not respond to an email and telephone call Wednesday from USA TODAY seeking more information. White House officials did not immediately respond to an inquiry about Cohen’s assertions.

In his statement, first provided to the New York Times, Cohen called the payment to Clifford a “private transaction” and said it did not amount to “a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”

The statement was the first time Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, acknowledged any role in the payment to the adult film actress.

The Wall Street Journal in January reported that Cohen created Essential Consultants LLC, a limited liability company in Delaware, several weeks before the 2016 election. A bank account tied to that company sent the payment to a client-trust account controlled by Clifford’s attorney, the newspaper found.

In his statement, Cohen said his lawyer would make similar comments to the FEC in response to the Common Cause complaint.

More: Porn star Stormy Daniels has reinvented the non-denial denial in alleged Trump affair

Campaign-finance experts say partisan politics in Washington makes it unlikely that any federal agency will take up the investigation. Congress is controlled by Republicans and the FEC typically deadlocks along party lines when it considers potential campaign-finance violations. 

“We have a situation where the president’s personal lawyer pays hush money to a porn star, and the president’s party doesn’t abandon this guy,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of the nonprofit group, Issue One, and an expert on government ethics. 

“This notion of the president being the moral leader of the country has been torn to shreds,” she said.

A key issue in any potential investigation: Whether the payment was aimed at protecting Trump and his family from embarrassment or to shield the purported affair from voters. Common Cause’s lawyers said the timing of the payment demonstrates the payment had a political purpose and amounts to a campaign-finance violation. The payment came a decade after the alleged fling but just weeks before the election as Trump’s campaign grappled with the release of an Access Hollywood tape of Trump boasting about groping women. 

Jan Baran, a Republican election law attorney, said it would be hard to prove political intent.

In 2012, for instance, federal prosecutors failed to convict former presidential contender John Edwards on campaign-finance violations after his supporters made $1 million in payments to conceal a pregnant mistress.

“The fact that a payment arose while a person was a candidate and during the election doesn’t make it a campaign expense,” Baran said. “Donald Trump may have paid his daughter’s college tuition while he was a candidate, but it doesn’t mean that payment is something that’s regulated by the campaign-finance laws.” 

Even if regulators choose not to investigate, the saga over the alleged affair and payment is unlikely to abate.

Clifford’s agent Gina Rodriguez told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Cohen’s statement likely violated a nondisclosure agreement with Clifford.The Daily Beast, meanwhile, reported that Cohen is shopping around his own book proposal about the Trump family, Russia and Clifford.

“Everything is off now, and Stormy is going to tell her story,” Rodriguez told the wire service.

Read the full Cohen statement:

“In late January 2018, I received a copy of a complaint filed at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by Common Cause. The complaint alleged that I somehow violated campaign finance laws by facilitating an excess, in-kind contribution. The allegations in the complaint are factually unsupported and without legal merit, and my counsel has submitted a response to the FEC.

“I am Mr. Trump’s longtime special counsel and I have proudly served in that role for more than a decade. In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford. Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly. The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.

“I do not plan to provide any further comment on the FEC matter or regarding Ms. Clifford.

“Just because something isn’t true doesn’t meant that it can’t cause you harm or damage. I will always protect Mr. Trump.”

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