WASHINGTON (CBSLA/AP) — A nonprofit watchdog group has asked the Justice Department and Office of Government Ethics to investigate whether a secret payment to an adult film actress made prior to the 2016 presidential election violated federal law because Donald Trump did not list it on his financial disclosure forms.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) lodged the complaint on Thursday. They say Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment may have been a loan to Trump, and if so, needed to be disclosed.
Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday alleging that the payment was part of a hush agreement to ensure she didn’t share details of an affair she had with Trump. Cohen has said he paid Clifford out of his own pocket and denied being reimbursed.
Clifford’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said on morning news shows that she wants “to set the record straight.” He said on NBC there was “no question” Trump knew about the agreement, though he did not offer any proof.
Avenatti said Clifford wasn’t looking to profit from her story. But he told CBS: “I don’t know whether she’s going to ultimately seek payment or not.”
Clifford initially claimed she had sex with Trump once and then carried on a subsequent yearslong platonic relationship.
But the lawsuit filed Tuesday refers to her beginning an “intimate relationship” with Trump in 2006 that continued “well into the year 2007.” She said the relationship included encounters in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and Beverly Hills. Trump married his current wife, Melania Trump, in 2005.
She also has also previously denied through a lawyer that the two had an affair, but Avenatti said Wednesday that was to meet the terms of the nondisclosure agreement. Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen has denied there was ever an affair.
Cohen has said he paid the porn actress $130,000 out of his own pocket as part of the agreement. He has 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 lawsuit charges that the Oct. 28, 2016, “hush agreement” is legally invalid because it was only signed by Clifford and Cohen. The agreement refers to Trump as David Dennison and Clifford as Peggy Peterson, but an attached exhibit details their true identities.
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump has “made very well clear that none of these allegations are true.”
“The president has denied the allegations against him and again this case has already been won in arbitration,” Sanders said.
Sanders declined to elaborate and referred additional questions to Cohen, who did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday and Wednesday.
An arbitrator in California issued a temporary restraining order last week that barred Clifford from disclosing any confidential information tied to the nondisclosure agreement or details about the arbitration hearing, according to a copy of the order that was obtained by NBC News.
Clifford’s lawsuit alleges that Cohen had “surreptitiously initiated a bogus arbitration proceeding” against Clifford and within the last week used an “improper and procedurally defective arbitration proceeding hidden from public view.”
The suit also charges that Trump and Cohen “aggressively sought to silence Ms. Clifford as part of an effort to avoid her telling the truth, thus helping to ensure he won the Presidential Election.”
Daniels said she’s been beset by internet trolls. Yesterday, she answered one in a humorous way subtly pointing out her troll clearly got his names mixed up.
“To be clear, the attempts to intimidate Ms. Clifford into silence and ‘shut her up’ in order to ‘protect Mr. Trump’ continue unabated,” the lawsuit said. Clifford alleges that as recently as last week, Trump’s attorney tried to initiate an arbitration proceeding against her.
Allegations about the $130,000 payment first surfaced in January, when CREW first tweeted an image of a Trump campaign receipt showing the transfer of $130,888.33.
That was later followed by a subsequent tweet that read: “To be clear, we’re not alleging anything nefarious took place. It was, as we said, probably a coincidence. But, as with other interesting FEC payments we flag, it’s an interesting one and one worth asking about.”
CREW was formerly led by Democratic Party strategist and longtime Clinton ally David Brock, who was elected as chairman of the CREW board of directors in 2014 before he officially cut ties with the group.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)