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Email raises questions about Trump World's Stormy Daniels claims

Some have tried to distance Donald Trump from the hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. Those efforts just became more difficult.
Image: Stormy Daniels Hosts Super Bowl Party At Sapphire Las Vegas Gentlemen's Club
LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 04: Adult film actress/director Stormy Daniels hosts a Super Bowl party at Sapphire Las Vegas Gentlemen's Club on February 4, 2018...

At this point, we know quite a bit about the Stormy Daniels scandal. We know the adult-film star, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, alleges she had a sexual relationship with Donald Trump during his third and current marriage. We know Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, created an LLC to pay Daniels $130,000 shortly before the 2016 presidential election.

We know Daniels is bound by a non-disclosure agreement, which she's suing to break. And we know the president's lawyer is still trying to silence the porn star, recently obtaining a secret restraining order in a private arbitration proceeding.

But as NBC News reports today, there are still questions that are slowly getting answers.

President Donald Trump's personal attorney used his Trump Organization email while arranging to transfer money into an account at a Manhattan bank before he wired $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence.The lawyer, Michael Cohen, also regularly used the same email account during 2016 negotiations with the actress ... before she signed a nondisclosure agreement, a source familiar with the discussions told NBC News.And Clifford's attorney at the time addressed correspondence to Cohen in his capacity at the Trump Organization and as "Special Counsel to Donald J. Trump," the source said.

It was previously reported that Cohen, while making the apparent hush-money payment, used First Republican Bank to wire the money shortly before the election. Now there's an email from that bank to Trump's attorney confirming the October 2016 transaction.

Why is this important? Keep a couple of things in mind.

First, just last month, Cohen told the Wall Street Journal, "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." He added at the time that he used his "own personal funds to facilitate" the $130,000 payment.

The point was obvious: Trump's lawyer hoped to put some distance between the apparent hush money and the president.

But as NBC News' report added today, the previously unseen email "shows First Republic Bank and Cohen communicated about the money using his Trump company email address, not his personal gmail account."

It led Michael Avenatti, Daniels' current attorney, to tell NBC News, "I think this document seriously calls into question the prior representation of Mr. Cohen and the White House relating to the source of the monies paid to Ms. Clifford in an effort to silence her.... We smell smoke."

This remains a thread worth pulling on. We still don't know, for example, where the $130,000 came from -- and in the event it came from Cohen's own account, we also don't know who reimbursed him for the expense.

It'd also be helpful to know what Trump knew about the "hush agreement" at the time, though the White House has been "suspiciously coy" on this point.

We're also kicking around questions about whether the transaction is already the subject of some kind of investigation, which certainly seems like a possibility.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), meanwhile, lodged a civil and criminal complaint this week. The Associated Press reports that the non-profit group has asked the Justice Department and the Office of Government Ethics to investigate whether the Daniels payment "violated federal law because Donald Trump did not list it on his financial disclosure forms."

According to CREW, the $130,000 looks like a loan that needed to be disclosed.

Look for Rachel to have more on this on tonight's show.

Update: A Washington Post  analysis this afternoon added that the information in the NBC News report suggests "federal election law was almost certainly violated."