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SAUL LOEB

Did two Trump attorneys lie in the hush-money scandal?

Updated

The Rachel Maddow Show, 2/15/19, 9:47 PM ET

Two Trump attorneys accused of lying to federal ethics officials

Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney, talks with Rachel Maddow about the potential criminal liability of two of Donald Trump’s attorneys who are accused by the House Oversight Committee of lying to the Office of Government Ethics about the hush money
At a certain level, it may seem as if Donald Trump’s hush-money scandal has already run its course. Michael Cohen, who helped orchestrate the pre-election payoffs, is going to prison. The president, meanwhile, is an unindicted co-conspirator, who won’t face charges in the controversy, at least not anytime soon.

But it’s not quite that simple. Those hush-money scandals also involve the Trump campaign, which is still under investigation. It also involves American Media Inc. (AMI), the National Enquirer’s publisher, which continues to face some difficult questions. As if that weren’t enough, the same controversy involves Trump’s private-sector business, since as Rachel noted on the show last week, the Trump Organization appears to be the entity through which some of those illegal campaign funds were effectively laundered.

And then late on Friday, a new reason emerged to take the hush-money scandal seriously. Politico reported:

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings said on Friday that his panel received new documents showing that two attorneys for President Donald Trump may have lied to government ethics officials about Trump fixer Michael Cohen’s payments to women alleging affairs with the president ahead of the 2016 election.

“It now appears that President Trump’s other attorneys – at the White House and in private practice – may have provided false information about these payments to federal officials,” Cummings (D-Md.) wrote in a letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

Cummings named Sheri Dillon and Stefan Passantino as the two attorneys who might have made false statements to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), citing documents the committee obtained from the office.

The story gets a little complicated, but the underlying questions are relatively simple: did Trump’s lawyers make false statement to federal investigators about money the president owed Cohen?

If they did make false statements, was that illegal?

And what role, if any, did the president have in directing and/or coordinating with those who may have made false statements?

The Politico article added, “According to Cummings, Dillon “repeatedly stated to federal officials at OGE that President Trump never owed any money to Mr. Cohen in 2016 and 2017.” Passantino, who served as deputy White House counsel for compliance and ethics, reportedly told OGE that Trump and Cohen had a ‘retainer agreement’ – a claim that was later contradicted by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.”

Some were originally inclined to overlook the Stormy Daniels controversy, dismissing it as needlessly salacious. But even ignoring the prurient details, the scandal is sending the president’s personal attorney to prison, and the story is still generating new questions in need of answers.

Donald Trump and Scandals

Did two Trump attorneys lie in the hush-money scandal?

Updated