Following months of denials and mixed messages about so-called hush money, Donald Trump‘s newly released financial disclosure forms document for the first time that he reimbursed 2016 “expenses” of more than $100,000 by his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
Now, government watchdogs want to know why the payment wasn’t disclosed a year ago.
While the mandatory, annual filing does not specify what the payment was for, Rudy Giuliani has previously said that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 he had paid to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an affair with Trump. Trump has denied the affair.
“In 2016 expenses were incurred by one of Donald J. Trump’s attorneys, Michael Cohen,” Trump reported in a note at the bottom of Page 45 of the 92-page Personal Financial Disclosure report. “Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Cohen in 2017. The category of value would be $100,001 to $250,000 and the interest rate would be zero.”
Cohen has admitted paying the settlement Daniels, made days before the 2016 election. Daniels claimed it was made to keep her silent about her 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.
Trump told reporters in April aboard Air Force One he did not know about the 2016 payment to Daniels, which Cohen said he made through money obtained through his home-equity line of credit and for which he had not been reimbursed.
“The disclosure flies in the face of what Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen have been trying to tell the American people for months, and it directly contradicts Mr. Trump’s videotaped comments on Air Force One back in early April,” Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, tells PEOPLE.
“The American people deserve the truth,” Avenatti continues, “and they deserve to have elected leaders and those close to those elected leaders not lying to them and covering up facts.”
The president’s disclosure form stated that his reimbursement of Cohen was listed “in the interest in transparency” and not required “to be disclosed as reportable liabilities.”
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However, the Office of Government Ethics released a letter dated on Wednesday to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein saying that it had concluded that Trump was required to disclose this liability owed to Cohen.
The Office of Government Ethics letter was in response to a complaint filed by the watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). CREW asserts that Trump should have reported the payments to Cohen in last year’s financial disclosures.
Norm Eisen, the former ethics czar in the Obama White House who founded CREW, tells PEOPLE that Trump’s disclosure “demonstrates we are right.”
“We at CREW were the first to identify when the Stormy story broke that the president had omitted his debt to Michael Cohen for the hush money payment from his financial disclosures that he filed last year,” Eisen says.
“That is a very serious omission. Those financial disclosures are signed by the president under the false-statements penalty,” Eisen continues. “Potentially lying on there is a felony.”
The letter also notes that the OGE is sending Rosenstein last year’s disclosure forms with the missing information and this year’s forms with the included information for its relevance to any inquiry Rosenstein may be pursuing.
“Potentially,” Eisen says, “the president could be looking at yet another criminal investigation.”
Eisen adds that “for the first time in American history, there’s been a referral to the Department of Justice of a president’s failures on a financial disclosure form.”
“I feel sad for the country that we have a president who is apparently so dishonest,’ Eisen says. “But I feel gratified for the rule of law that, in our country, nobody is above the law and even the president is accountable to these rules.”