President Donald Trump may soon have to acknowledge a payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels through something relatively mundane: a mandatory financial disclosure filing.
Tuesday marks the final deadline for President Trump to submit his financial disclosure form to the Office of Government Ethics. And experts say that, given the recent news developments, he must disclose the $130,000 payment he made to his longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Since Trump was giving Cohen the funds as a reimbursement for his payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to prevent her from discussing their alleged affair in the weeks before the 2016 election, he must include it in his filing and explain why it was omitted from last year’s report.
Under the Ethics in Government Act, the President must include in his financial disclosure form any liabilities that exceed $10,000 from the previous calendar year. Trump initially denied any knowledge of the payment to Cohen, but Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month that Trump had actually reimbursed Cohen for the payment in monthly installments of $35,000 throughout 2017.
Trump has confirmed Cohen was paid through a “retainer,” but has not specified the timeline. But experts say that Trump’s acknowledgement means he not only has to disclose the payments on this year’s financial disclosure form, but explain why he left it off of last year’s, if he knew he had already incurred the debt.
“We know now based on the statements by the President’s own surrogates that there was this debt incurred in 2016, and still existed into 2017 – which is the relevant piece from this report. And it wasn’t disclosed last year, even though by all appearances it should have been,” said Adav Noti, senior director for the Campaign Legal Center. “So the question is not only will it be disclosed, and what explanation will be given for having not been disclosed previously?”
The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment about what would be listed on the report and whether the President had filed an extension – he did so last year – and the Office of Government Ethics declined to declined to comment on specific cases.
Noti also noted that the decision to dole out the money in monthly installments looks like a facade. “The payment was structured in such a way that you know you could draw an inference that not only was it not reported, but they’re attempting to conceal the payments,” said.
Trump’s failure to disclose this debt on last year’s financial disclosure report was also the subject of an amended complaint from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington that they filed with the Office of Government Ethics, the Department of Justice and the Southern District of New York.
Even if Trump files Tuesday, however, it’s unlikely the report will be released immediately, because the Office of Government Ethics still has to certify it. The timeline for the certification process varies based on the complexity of the report.
Daniels has sued both Trump and Cohen, the former for violating the non-disclosure agreement, alleging it was invalid because he didn’t actually sign it, and the latter for defamation. Michael Avenatti, Daniels’ attorney, told TIME that while he has no knowledge if Trump will file an extension, any acknowledgement of the payments will strengthen his client’s argument.
“I think it will further tighten the noose in connection with our case,” said Avenatti. “He’s [Trump] previously denied knowledge of the [Non Disclosure Agreement] and if he knew about it it begets knowledge about why he didn’t sign the agreement.”