Friday, May 18, 2018

Stormy Daniels update - What the President knew and when he knew it

In today’s political and legal environment a very few things we get to know; many more things remain beyond our ken.

Example #1: The details of the Russia investigation are being held closely by special counsel Robert Mueller. Occasionally an indictment is handed out, but the ultimate, public conclusion is a long way off. As Wired.com put it in their morning email,

… this ex-Marine is not messing around with discipline when it comes to the Russia investigation. Reporters inquiring about it are met by Mueller’s tight-lipped, leak-proof spokesperson, Peter Carr: “No comment.” Discipline, order, and relentlessness are the military backbone of Mueller’s current work, and that’s exactly how he likes it.

Example #2: Two suspicious activity reports (SARs) have gone missing from the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network reports Ronan Farrow at the New Yorker in Missing Files Motivated the Leak of Michael Cohen’s Financial Records. We may or may not ever find out who filched those files and to what end.

Example #3: But one thing we are getting to know a lot about is the hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels by President Donald Trump via his money conduit and fixer Michael Cohen. Bear in mind that, given Trump’s habitual lying, the likelihood of Trump telling the truth about any of that is exactly zero. That said, Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) probes Trump’s financial filing and tells us about the real reason Why Trump’s new disclosure on Stormy Daniels payment matters.

It was just last month when Donald Trump chatted briefly with reporters on Air Force One, and in response to a reporter’s question, the president said he did not know about the $130,000 hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels shortly before Election Day 2016. The Republican added that he also didn’t know where his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, received the money to pay the porn star. [See Benen’s earlier report: Trump breaks his silence on Stormy Daniels (to the delight of her lawyer).]

A month later, Rudy Giuliani told a national television audience that Trump’s original version of events wasn’t altogether true, and yesterday, the president disclosed the truth in black and white.

President Donald Trump reported that he reimbursed personal attorney Michael Cohen for costs apparently incurred in paying adult film star Stormy Daniels for a nondisclosure agreement, according to a federally required annual financial disclosure form released by the Office of Government Ethics on Wednesday.

“In the interest of transparency, while not required to be disclosed as ‘reportable liabilities’ … in 2016 expenses were incurred by one of Donald J. Trump’s attorneys, Michael Cohen,” a note at the bottom of Page 45 of the 92-page report states. “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.”

The acknowledgement appeared in a footnote.

At face value, I imagine some might see this acknowledgement as underwhelming. …

What makes Trump’s financial disclosure filing so striking, however, is the letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein from David Apol, the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, that accompanied the president’s paperwork. Apol noted, for example, that despite Trump’s assertion, the disclosure of the reimbursement payment to Cohen wasn’t optional.

And that’s no small detail.

Indeed, Apol added that Rosenstein “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.”

Or put another way, it looked as if the Office of Government Ethics might have been making some kind of criminal referral to the Justice Department about the sitting president. In fact, the Campaign Legal Center’s Adav Noti told Rachel on the show last night that the OGE letter is, “for all intents and purposes, a criminal referral.”

Specifically, if the Cohen payment needed to be disclosed on Trump’s filings, that was true last year, too, when the president filed the previous version of this paperwork. But in last year’s filing, there was no such disclosure.

Oops!

If there was an “intent to deceive,” to use Adav Noti’s phrasing from last night, the legal liability could be serious – beyond any possible violations of campaign-finance laws.

The Stormy Daniels scandal just got even more interesting.

I’m still thinking that of all the sleaze and slime exuded by the Trump administration, the greatest danger to the Trump presidency might be the the Stormy Daniels affair, the payoff, and the coverup.

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