Another day, another amazing disaster from the Trump camp. This time it’s from Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
Yesterday he announced that he had paid Stormy Daniels (he did not say for what but presumably to keep quiet about her fling with Trump) out of his own pocket. As Daily Kos reports,
Donald Trump’s lawyer is claiming that the October 2016 hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels came out of his own pocket. The lawyer’s, not Trump’s. This raises some questions, and Michael Cohen, who is one of Trump’s longtime personal lawyers, not one of his Russia investigation lawyers, isn’t giving plausible answers:
“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,” Mr. Cohen said in a statement to The New York Times. “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”
He declined to answer several follow-up questions, including whether Mr. Trump had been aware that Mr. Cohen made the payment, why he made the payment or whether he had made similar payments to other people over the years.
The sound I’m sure you all heard after his statement was the noise of collective legal jaws dropping. Seriously? Out. Of. His. Own. Pocket.
If you’re not a student of the law, you may not comprehend the significance of this statement. Lawyers are not allowed to help clients pay litigation costs. In the old days it could be deemed a form of champetry, and in the modern practice it is unethical, as Renato Mariotti opines (see below).
The New York Times reports that,
Mr. Cohen said that he had given a similar statement to the Federal Election Commission in response to a complaint filed by the government watchdog group Common Cause, which contended that the payment, made through a limited liability company that Mr. Cohen established, was an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign.
This is the second problem with Cohen’s action. Of course it’s an in-kind contribution. If you’d like to know why, this Vanity Fair article spells it out clearly.
As Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post says:
Also possible is that Cohen paid Daniels and then got reimbursed from Trump personally. If that’s the case, Cohen — don’t laugh — has an ethics problem. Renato Mariotti, a Democratic candidate for attorney general in Illinois and former prosecutor, notes that the American Bar Association’s “Rule of Professional Conduct 1.8(e) prohibits lawyers from ‘provid[ing] financial assistance to a client in connection with pending or contemplated litigation.’ If Michael Cohen paid this money to Stormy Daniels to settle her claims against Trump, he violated the rule.”
Rubin discusses all the possible scenarios, and in each of them Cohen and/or Trump is in some degree of trouble.
Comments from the Twitter Peanut Gallery
Here’s a very good question posted by Richard Painter (@RWPUSA):
Question for NY state bar exam:
Is it ethical for a lawyer to pay $130,000 out of his own funds to buy silence from a client’s mistress on the eve of an election in which the client is a candidate? Explain your answer.
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) February 14, 2018
And from attorney Aaron Feldman:
CA ethics rules would require informing the client of the offer and forbids paying obligation of a client. Looks fishy. https://t.co/pMxxMpwtxf
— Aaron Feldman (@AaronFeldman5) February 14, 2018
In the course of researching this essay I found a very interesting tidbit. Cohen’s Wikipedia article, which sounds like he wrote it himself, says he was born in “1966/67.” Huh?
By the way, I’m proud to announce that I was blocked by Cohen months ago for asking uncomfortable questions.