The Trump campaign has dished out nearly $228,000 to cover legal fees for the President’s embattled personal attorney Michael Cohen, thereby potentially violating political finance laws, according to a report and federal records.
Trump’s campaign made three “legal consulting” payments between October and January to McDermott Will and Emery, a Manhattan law firm where Cohen’s lawyer Stephen Ryan is a partner, Federal Election Commission records reveal.
Several people familiar with the matter told ABC News the payments covered Cohen’s legal expenses. The longtime Trump attorney and personal fixer is currently battling a criminal investigation in New York and a civil lawsuit in California filed by porn star Stormy Daniels.
The legal payments could land Cohen and the Trump camp in hot water, since political campaigns are prohibited from using official funds for personal use. Cohen has maintained he has no official position in the campaign.
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“It can’t be a campaign matter, but also not a campaign matter. It can’t be both ways,” Jordan Libowitz, a director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told the Daily News. “If it’s a personal payment, he could be in trouble.”
Cohen likely didn’t break campaign finance laws if the payments covered legal fees relating to the sweeping investigation into Russian election meddling, as the campaign itself is at the center of that probe.
But Cohen could be on thin ice if the payments covered legal fees stemming from the $130,000 hush payment he facilitated for Daniels 11 days before the 2016 election. The FEC records do not make clear what specific legal fees the payments covered.
Daniels says she took the money in exchange for signing a nondisclosure agreement that bars her from speaking about having sex with Trump in 2006. That payment could also have violated campaign finance laws if Trump coordinated or reimbursed Cohen for it. Cohen has admitted to making the payment, but has refused to explain why or whether Trump ever repaid him.
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A spokesman for the Trump camp did not return a request for comment on Monday. Ryan, Cohen’s attorney, didn’t respond to emailed questions.
Ryan is defending Cohen in matters relating to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. He’s also defending Cohen against Daniels’ suit, which seeks to null their nondisclosure agreement because it lacks Trump’s signature.
Cohen has dominated national headlines since federal agents stormed into his Manhattan office and hotel room earlier this month and seized a cache of records, including communications between him and Trump.
Libowitz speculated the Trump camp is footing Cohen’s legal bills because the President is worried about what his longtime fixer could potentially tell investigators if they offer him a plea deal.
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“It sure seems like the President does not want him cooperating with investigators,” Libowitz told The News. “I can’t imagine anyone would want their personal lawyer testifying against them.”