Opinion

Trump’s Financial Disclosure Forms Really Don’t Seem To Match What Rudy’s Saying

Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump, 2016

Today, Donald Trump‘s public financial disclosure form was released, and it pretty much backs up what Rudy Giuliani said—that Donald Trump “fully reimbursed” Michael Cohen for his payment to a third party. The disclosure form says that Cohen incurred expenses in 2016, that Trump reimbursed those expenses in 2017, and that the amount of this reimbursement fell into the range of $100,001 to $250,000. Even without specific information regarding the reasons for this “reimbursement,” this all sticks pretty close to the Stormy Daniels-Michael Cohen-hush money narrative we’ve all been following.

There’s just one problem.

The numbers reported don’t quite match what the president’s current lawyer is out there saying. Giuliani told Fox News that Trump paid a $35,000 monthly retainer to Michael Cohen, for a total of about $460,000 over the time period discussed. From these hefty monthly payments, Cohen would simply reimburse himself for expenses paid — at least according to what Rudy’s saying.

The retainer-reimbursement dance is problematic on its own, because normally, retainers are fees for services. So if Cohen were a typical lawyer doing actual legal work for Trump, the $460,000 (or other corresponding figure, in the event that Rudy once again had his specific facts wrong) would constitute regular old lawyerly income for Cohen. If Cohen properly reported that income and followed all legal/ethical rules for serving his client, there’s no immediate problem. That’s kind of a big “if,” though, because mixing up a lawyer’s income with client’s money is a big no-no under ethics guidelines. Absent a specific agreement, lawyers aren’t permitted to use retainer funds for things other than legal work.

There’s an excellent chance that Trump’s characterization of money paid to Cohen as a “reimbursement” was motivated by a desire to help Cohen out of a sticky situation. If Cohen’s payment to Daniels was reimbursed, then the undisclosed payment wouldn’t constitute a violation of federal election law (at least not for Cohen). Given the risks involved, Giuliani’s public statements could very well have been strategically timed:

Such a strategy — which would help Cohen avoid federal election law liability — would be fairly sound, even the defense brings up related problems of improper bookkeeping.

For now, back to the numbers. According to Rudy, Cohen may have made all sorts of payments on Trump’s behalf without bothering Trump with such trifles. Again, the public disclosure form only cops to paying Cohen $100,001 to $250,000. Somewhere, there’s over $200,000 that seems to have evaporated into the ether.

Maybe the whole $460K was used for “reimbursements,” in which case, today’s financial disclosure is materially – and therefore, problematically — incorrect. Alternatively, maybe a portion of the $460K was used for other purposes, such as paying for Cohen’s services, covering other costs, and perhaps paying off additional women. If that’s the case, it may be time to check under the hood. In addition to auditing Cohen’s books for proper reporting and compliance with legal and ethical guidelines, it might be helpful to know what dollars went to what people for what payoffs.

It’s, of course, also possible, that Rudy Giuliani was talking out of his ass, and that there was no $35K monthly retainer. Perhaps it was really just the $130,000 advanced to Cohen as a reimbursement, and that Giuliani’s on-air “facts” were some of the ones he was still “getting straight.”

[Image via DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images]

Editor’s Note: This piece has been updated to include additional information reported by Fox News. 

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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