President Trump and his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen have certainly made a mess of their $130,000 payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels. In both the clumsy management and their changing explanations of the transaction, they have ignited a debate over whether the payment and their failure to report it violated federal campaign-finance law.
Now, under apparent pressure from the Office of Government Ethics, the president’s lawyers dropped a note into the president’s personal financial-disclosure reports about the payment, denying it was a reportable liability and asserting it was included “in the interests of transparency.” The Office of Government Ethics has notified the Justice Department of the reporting issue, raising the possibility of legal exposure for the president.
But the time and energy Trump critics have devoted to this issue has always been misplaced. Whether the Daniels payment is a financial-disclosure matter or a campaign-finance violation is largely a distraction; the more compelling and consequential issue is the Trump-Cohen relationship.