Watchdog group: DOJ should investigate porn actress payment

FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2007 file photo, Stormy Daniels arrives for the 49th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. A nonprofit watchdog group has asked the Justice Department and Office of Government Ethics to investigate whether a secret payment to Daniels made prior to the 2016 presidential election violated federal law because Donald Trump did not list it on his financial disclosure forms. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

WASHINGTON — A nonprofit watchdog group has asked the Justice Department and the Office of Government Ethics to investigate whether a secret payment to an adult film actress made prior to the 2016 presidential election may have violated federal law because Donald Trump did not list it on his financial disclosure forms.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington lodged the civil and criminal complaint on Thursday. The group argues that Trump attorney Michael Cohen's $130,000 payment may have been a loan to Trump and, if so, needed to be disclosed. And CREW noted that special counsel Robert Mueller may also want to investigate because of "a similar pattern of potential blackmail" in personal matters involving Trump.

Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, claimed in a lawsuit filed this week that the $130,000 payment made as part of a nondisclosure agreement was to ensure she didn't share details of an extramarital affair with Trump.

Clifford sought to invalidate their agreement in order to "set the record straight." She alleged in the filing that Trump "at all times has been fully aware of the negotiations ... the existence and terms of the Hush Agreement, the payment of $130,000, (and) the use of (Essential Consultants LLC) as a conduit."

CREW argues that Trump's 2016 financial disclosure form did not include any reference to Cohen or Essential Consultants LLC, and that if the allegations are true, it should have. Public officials are required under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to report all liabilities beyond $10,000 during the preceding calendar year.

If "Mr. Trump intentionally omitted this material information from his financial disclosures as part of a larger scheme to hide his relationship with Ms. Daniels, that would be no small thing," said Norm Eisen, chairman of CREW.

"The president personally certified these filings, so he may finally face some accountability. ... Remember, the feds got Al Capone for lying on his federal financial submissions (his taxes), not for any underlying offenses," he said.

The letter also states that Cohen is required under the New York Rules of Professional Conduct to keep Trump informed about "all material developments," including settlements, with Clifford.

Cohen has said he paid the porn actress $130,000 out of his own pocket as part of the agreement. He's also said that "neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly."

The White House has said that none of the allegations are true and that the Clifford case has already been won in arbitration. The White House and the Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. The Justice Department declined to comment.

"It is mere common sense that there is no way that an attorney would engage in a negotiation finalization and payment pursuant to an agreement and not disclose it to the client," said Clifford's attorney, Michael Avenatti.

In an email Avenatti provided to the The Associated Press, dated Oct. 26, 2016, an assistant to First Republic Bank senior managing director Gary Farro sent Cohen an email with the subject "RE: First Republic Bank Transfer" and a message that said "the funds have been deposited into your checking account."

Cohen then sent that email from his Trump Organization email account to his Gmail account, before forwarding it to Keith Davidson, the attorney previously representing Clifford. The money was wired to Davidson's bank account the day after, Avenatti said.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee and members of the House's Democratic Women's Working Group sent a lengthy letter to Trump's attorneys on Friday about the Clifford case, an alleged extramarital affair with former 1998 Playboy Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal, and "potentially others."

The letter requested details on agreements and payments made. It said the events raise questions relating to "possible campaign finance, tax, legal ethics and other legal violations, raise serious doubts about the credibility of President Trump's repeated denials of sexual misconduct, and pose risks of future efforts to extort or otherwise improperly influence the President."

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Follow Tami Abdollah at https://twitter.com/latams

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