Trump Is In Legal Hot Water and Big Mouth Giuliani Put Him There
It’s pretty much a coin toss to decide whether having Rudy Giuliani as one’s attorney is better than representing oneself. Donald Trump’s personal disclosure statement is due today, unless he requests an extension. Under the Ethics in Government Act Trump has to disclose all liabilities that exceeded $10,000 at any time during calendar year 2017, even if he repaid them later that year and that would include his debt to Michael Cohen for having advanced the $130,000 to pay Stormy Daniels. Rudy’s been looking for a loophole, but unfortunately he put his foot in his mouth on Sean Hannity’s show a few weeks back when he admitted that Trump knew about the payment. USA Today:
The law comprehensively requires disclosure of “the total liabilities owed to any creditor.” The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has explained that “nowhere in the statute or its legislative history can we find any indication that the terms ‘liabilities’ and ‘creditor’ were intended to be limited to cash loans or to be defined in a manner other than their ordinary usage.”
Both Giuliani and his client seemed to work a related angle by characterizing the president’s payments to Cohen as a “retainer.” Giuliani claimed the president started making installment payments to Cohen in early 2017 in order to reimburse the Daniels payment and other items, with the understanding that Cohen could keep any excess as “profit.”
In describing the billing arrangement this way, Giuliani might have hoped that the president could avoid the requirement to report his debt for the Daniels payment by blurring the line between that payment and any fees for Cohen’s services. (OGE once said legal fees have to be reported but, in practice, applies this requirement only when the fees are overdue.) Nevertheless, bundling the Daniels payment with Cohen’s legal fees doesn’t make that payment a legal fee. The Daniels payment remains a reportable liability regardless of the billing arrangement.
The search for loopholes might lead to the exception for campaign expenditures, which Trump does not have to include in his OGE financial disclosure report. But Giuliani foreclosed that option when he denied that the Daniels payment was campaign-related.
Now of course the sticky wicket is that by disclosing the expense this year means that he should have disclosed it last year. It also raises the obvious question of what other expenses he might have omitted. Of course Giuliani could figure out a way to justify the omission, other than Franklin Graham’s theory that it’s “nobody’s business” but that doesn’t quite fly in the real world. Just one more rock on the pile of corruption.