President Donald Trump just got a new reason to look warily at deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein – the government's top ethics official forwarded the senior justice official Trump's latest financial disclosure form.
In the form Trump revealed for the first time that he reimbursed lawyer Michael Cohen for loans of between $100,00 and $250,000 – paying back for 'expenses' the man who says he paid porn star Stormy Daniels in a hush agreement.
David Apol, the head of the office of government ethics, made note of the payment in Trump's report and flagged the reimbursement.
He also told Rosenstein – who is overseeing Robert Mueller's Russia probe and who signed off on handing over the Michael Cohen case to the Southern District of New York – saying that the loan was 'required to be reported.'
Michael Cohen's loan to Trump was 'required to be reported,' the government's top ethics official wrote Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein
Although the loan was from 2016, Trump did not mention it on his 2017 disclosure.
Apol wrote Rosenstein: 'Based on the information provided as a note ... the payment made by Mr. Cohen is required to be reported as a liability.'
He said he was forwarding Trump's latest report 'because you may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the president's prior report.'
He did not comment further on whether there is in fact an existing inquiry.
Apol also made note on the form itself on page 1 of the document, referencing Trump's revelation he had 'reimbursed' Cohen for undefined 'expenses.'
Stormy Daniels got a $130,000 payment for a nondisclosure agreement
'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.'
If Trump didn't know about the loan, he may be able to argue he had no need to disclose it.
Cohen negotiated a non-disclosure agreement withe former porn star who says she had an affair with Trump. The agreement used pseudonyms, and required she not speak about the alleged affair, which Trump denies. It is signed by Cohen and Daniels, but not by Trump, although the pseudonym David Dennison refers to him.
According to the president's required annual filing, Trump indicated he did not have to disclose the loan, although ethics experts said beforehand that he did, citing the requirement to disclose all debts over $10,000.
TO THE BEST OF MY KNOWLEDGE ... The ethics chief made note of the reporting requirement on page 1, right below his and Trump's signatures
David Apol, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, forwarded the matter to the Justice Department
'You may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the president's prior report'
GULP: Rosenstein is already in Trump's crosshairs as he oversees the Russia probe
'In the interest of transparency, while not required to be disclosed as 'reportable liabilities' on Part 8, in 2016 expenses were incurred by one of Donald J. Trump's attorneys, Michael Cohen,' according to Trump's form.
'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.'
Walter Shaub, the former head of the office of government ethics, wrote in a statement by the Campaign Legal Center that it should have been disclosed.
'The release of President Trump's financial disclosure report today confirms that his debt to Michael Cohen should have been disclosed in last year's report. It bears an annotation on the cover page by OGE stating as much. President Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, claims the president didn't know about the payment when he filed that report last year, but this explanation seems implausible. For one thing, Giuliani admits that the president started repaying his debt to Cohen months before he filed his financial disclosure report,' Shaub wrote.
He said his group was 'heartened' by Apol's referral.
'It remains to be seen whether the Department of Justice (DOJ) 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. 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.'
FINE PRINT: Trump made the disclosure in a government form he is required to file. He wrote that he did so 'in the interest of transparency'
Adult film actress Stormy Daniels approaches the microphones set up outside federal court to address reporters, Monday, April 16, 2018
Most of the other loans Trump disclosed were for several million dollars each
Trump and porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims they had an affair
According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed a complaint about Trump's disclosure, '“The revelation of a liability to Michael Cohen on President Trump’s public financial disclosures stemming from the Stormy Daniels hush money payments suggests we were right in our previous complaint and raises serious questions as to why it was not disclosed 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,' according to the statement.
CREW filed a new complaint Wednesday.