The checks themselves nothing prove a crime, however they can be one item of proof in a potential case versus Trump.

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A copy the a examine paid to Michael Cohen by chairman Donald Trump presented at a residence Oversight Committee listening in February 2019. Chip Somodevilla/Getty images
Michael Cohen’s dramatic conference testimony last week came with a vivid intuitive aid. The former attorney to president Donald trump publicly released several personal checks meant to reimburse Cohen because that his hush payments to Stormy Daniels — consisting of some signed by the chairman himself.

The checks don’t readjust the an easy facts at issue in the hush money scandal. Cohen pleaded guilty last year come violating campaign finance legislation by paying off Daniels shortly before the election. And we’ve known for rather some time the Trump reimbursed Cohen because that this afterward.

But the large unanswered inquiry is whether prosecutors in the us Attorney’s Office that the southerly District of brand-new York expect to seek the hush money instance further — by implicating the Trump company or also the president himself.

According come legal and campaign finance experts, the check themselves don’t prove a crime. But they could be one piece of proof in a potential case against Trump.

“There’s a saying among criminal prosecutors: You develop a wall surface brick through brick,” Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at watchdog group usual Cause, told me. “These checks room not the wall, but they room a brick — or 11 bricks — in this wall.”

The hush payments, briefly explained

Cohen has actually admitted that, ahead of the 2016 election, he violated project finance regulations by arranging hush money payments for 2 women who had alleged affairs through Trump. The first woman, Karen McDougal, was paid $150,000 by the nationwide Enquirer’s parental company, American Media Inc., to secure the legal rights to her story and bury it.

But the second payment — $130,000 for Stormy Daniels — was made by Cohen himself, just days before the 2016 election, in exchange for Daniels signing a nondisclosure agreement.

The brand-new checks put out how Cohen to be reimbursed — and also then some — because that his payoff to Daniels. He was given multiple monthly payments of $35,000 each.

“The checks in and also of us are far-reaching from an evidentiary standpoint, since they provide some corroboration that Michael Cohen’s explanations the what happened,” Erin Chlopak, co-director of project finance strategy at the campaign Legal Center, said.

The new York times on Tuesday published eight the the 11 checks and a timeline of when they were sent out to Cohen — all during Trump’s presidency.

The very first two checks were from the Donald J. Trumped Revocable trust Account, and signed through Donald trumped Jr. And Trump company finance chief Allen Weisselberg. Here’s one of them:

Federal prosecutors in the southerly District of new York (SDNY) claimed in a December sentencing memo that Cohen sent out monthly invoices to Trump’s company “falsely indicating” the these invoices were part of part retainer agreement, and also that the Trump company falsely accounted because that the payments as legal expenses.

Representatives for the White House and also Trump company did not return request for talk about this story.

What the checks display — and don’t show

For arranging the payment come McDougal and making the payment come Daniels, Cohen to be charged critical year through violating project finance law. He pleaded guilty.

Specifically, prosecutors said that this payments were made “with the will to influence the 2016 presidential election” and also should have actually been topic to campaign finance limits. (The legal border for make a donation come a political campaign at that time to be $2,700.)

Cohen has implicated trumped in his project finance crimes by saying the Trump said him to orchestrate the hush payments. However prosecutors are going to have to prove an ext than the to make a criminal case against Trump, follow to Ryan.

One, they have to create that the function of the payments was political and not an individual (in other words, the they to be made to help Trump in the election, not, for example, to keep his wife from detect out about his alleged affairs). And two, they need to prove the Trump command the payments and also was personally liable.

The checks, i m sorry Trump signed while he to be president, prove the Trump at some point figured out around Cohen’s hush payments and also agreed to pay him back. (There’s an alternative some trump card defenders use, saying he simply thought he was making retainer payments, yet as mentioned, federal prosecutors don’t believe that.) yet they’re not proof trump knew about the original project finance violation.

Furthermore, Trump trying to keep the payment under wraps can not matter in a courtroom, at least as component of a project finance violation.

“You have actually a system that is basically to disguise and also hide payments that Cohen made during the campaign, and also Trump and the Trump to trust were connected in the scheme,” former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said. “In and also of itself, is the a crime? ns wouldn’t speak necessarily.”

Trump tweeted ~ above Thursday, apparently in reference to Cohen and the Daniels payments, that “there were no hurt of campaign finance laws by me.”

It was not a campaign contribution, and there were no violations of the campaign finance laws by me. Fake News!

— Donald J. Trumped (
realDonaldTrump) march 7, 2019

Trump didn’t disclose the reimbursements to Cohen

Trump’s reimbursement payments to Cohen don’t simply matter in the project finance realm — they’re significant in state of federal government ethics, too. Trump card should have actually reported his blame to Cohen in gaue won disclosures come the Office of Government values (OGE) indigenous the get-go. He didn’t.

Trump left the money he fan Cohen turn off of his 2017 disclosure, yet in a footnote in his 2018 disclosure he claimed he had “fully reimbursed” Cohen for prices he had actually incurred. (It didn’t specify for what.) Subsequently, in may of critical year, the OGE sent out a letter come the room of righteousness alerting Deputy Attorney general Rod Rosenstein about the omission. And in August, watchdog group the task on government Oversight asked the OGE to evaluation whether that footnote had been accurate, since it asserted Trump had actually paid Cohen approximately $250,000 however prosecutors revealed Cohen had received $420,000.

The OGE appears to have responded v a subtweet at the time.

There space criminal penalties for some principles violations, favor willfully omitting info on ethics disclosures, working on federal government matters when one has a gaue won conflict, and accepting money from exclusive persons in exchange because that doing government work.

— U.S. OGE (
OfficeGovEthics) respectable 23, 2018

“Trump was required to disclose this blame on an ethics form he filed in June 2017, and he failed to disclose it,” catalen Clark, a professor the government ethics law in ~ Washington University legislation School, said. “In other words, if he was president, trump lied come the Office of federal government Ethics.”

House oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has actually pressed the White house for documents about Trump’s payments to Cohen and the Daniels hush money. In February, the released files from the OGE the he says show “that lawyers representing both the White House and the Trump organization repeatedly provided false info to values officials, including ‘evolving stories’ about whether payments to be made come Mr. Cohen and also the purposes of those payments.”

There can be an ext here

Experts i spoke with stated that Trump’s reimbursement payment to Cohen — and also the check — might have further legal significance, though it might be too early on to tell precisely what.

Weisselberg, the Trump organization’s CFO, signed several of the reimbursement checks, and Cohen has said the he was in Trump’s office as soon as the decision to pay Daniels was made. That could implicate the legally, despite he was granted immunity by commonwealth prosecutors because that cooperating in the Cohen examination last year. Therefore if prosecutors did bring a instance on this topic, lock would have actually to display their proof wasn’t obtained from his testimony, Mariotti explained. Trump Jr. Also signed some of the Cohen reimbursement checks, but it’s much less clear what that knew around the Daniels payments and also when.

Mariotti claimed that the trump card Organization and trust might potentially it is in in legal crosshairs for having false statements on their books and also records — basically, because that saying that the Cohen payment were because that legal services and also not reimbursements because that the hush money. If, because that example, having those false declaration on that is books, the trump card Organization derived a loan from a bank, that can amount to breaking commonwealth law, that said. And also under state law, it is a crime to have false books and also records.

“There is state and federal criminal exposure it is implicated by the false explanation in the books and also records in the trumped Organization, and also these checks room tied to that, since they space payments linked to these false statements,” Mariotti said.

Ryan said that the reimbursement checks could potentially be evidence in locations such as money laundering and mail and wire fraud. But, he said, that would certainly all count on whether there is a provable case on campaign finance violate — basically, that the Daniels hush money and Cohen reimbursements were produced political purposes, and that Trump directed the hush payment.

The actual question, then, is even if it is the united state Attorney’s Office in the southern District of brand-new York thinks further charges on the project finance case are provable — and intends to pursue them.

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“If it might be proven the there were project finance legislation violations, climate you have actually a cascade the other possible crimes,” Ryan said. “And the checks are direct evidence of few of those added crimes.”

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