Two lawyers working for President Donald Trump may have lied to government ethics officials about the Michael Cohen-facilitated hush money payment to adult actress Stormy Daniels, according to records obtained by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
In a Friday letter addressed to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Oversight Committee Chair Elijiah Cummings (D-Md.) said those documents showed that Trump’s personal lawyer Sheri Dillon and former deputy White House ethics counsel Stefan Passantino provided “false information” to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) about whether Trump reimbursed Cohen for the Daniels payment.
Cummings notes that Dillon “repeatedly stated to federal officials at OGE that President Trump never owed any money to Mr. Cohen in 2016 and 2017.” Cummings then details three separate incidents–in March and April 2018–where Dillon told OGE investigators that Trump did not pay Cohen back any money over the hush money arrangement. Pressed on the issue, Dillon repeatedly confirmed the lack of reimbursement on each occasion.
That apparently wasn’t true.
The letter continues:
On May 2, 2018, President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, made a startling admission when he stated on national television that President Trump had, in fact, reimbursed Mr. Cohen for his payments to [Stormy Daniels].
Mr. Giuliani claimed that these payments were part of a “retainer” agreement with Mr. Cohen for legal services. He stated: “They were funneled through a law firm, and the president repaid it.” He added: “That was money that was paid by his lawyer. … The president reimbursed that over the period of several months.”
Dillon’s story js said to have changed immediately after that.
“On May 8, 2018, OGE officials asked Ms. Dillon about these new admissions and the new retainer claim,” the letter notes. “At that point, Ms. Dillon abandoned her previous argument that President Trump never made any payments to Mr. Cohen. Instead, she told OGE officials: ‘Mr Cohen always knew that he would be reimbursed but the mechanisms for reimbursement changed over time.'”
Passantino also appeared to endorse the retainer agreement story.
“My understanding [is] that in course of legal services, he was authorized to outlay and that was part of the retainer agreement,” Passantino told OGE investigators. “Legal feeds charged on monthly basis. Sees it as revolving credit as what shouldn’t be disclosed.”
Investigators with OGE, however, were skeptical of those claims from Dillon and Passantino.
OGE Director David Apol wrote that “it doesn’t seem [like] a retainer [was] in place,” and noted that when an OGE official “asked if we could see the retainer agreement.” Dillon denied the request because it was “privileged.”
And as it turns out, there was no retainer agreement at all.
Again the letter:
On August 21, 2018, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York revealed that there was no “retainer agreement” in place between President Trump and Mr. Cohen covering the payments to silence women alleging extramatrial affairs during the 2016 presidential campaign. The complaint stated: “In truth and in fact, there was no such retainer agreement.”
Cohen was recently sentenced to three years in prison for his various roles in the hush money arrangement and subsequent attempts at a coverup, Cummings noted.
“It now appears that President Trump’s other attorneys–at the White House and in private practice–may have provided false information about these payments to federal officials,” the letter accuses.
Passantino disputed the allegation in an email to Law&Crime.
“That will be false,” he wrote. “As The Office of Government Ethics will confirm, I made no representations on behalf of the White House regarding the facts of Michael Cohen’s financial relationship with anyone.”
Law&Crime also reached out to Dillon for comment on this story but no response was forthcoming at the time of publication.
[image via MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images]