Ethics Quiz: Was It OK for Trump's Lawyer to Say He Paid Stormy Daniels?

By George Khoury, Esq. on February 15, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is facing a barrage of questions about the propriety of the payment, allegedly made personally by him, to Stormy Daniels. In case you've somehow managed to avoid this breaking headline, an adult entertainment actress was allegedly paid $130,000 as hush money, by Cohen, in order to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Donald Trump.

And while the alleged underlying conduct, or a payment of hush money, might not be terribly unexpected from President Trump given his crude reputation, Cohen's claim that he made the payment out of his own personal funds without Trump's knowledge simply defies all credulity. As Above The Law aptly explained (in bolded all caps): "MOB LAWYERS DON'T DO THAT!"

New York Ethics Rules

While the logic behind Cohen's payment begs many questions, perhaps the one on every lawyer's mind is whether Cohen's going to get disciplined. In New York, the ethics rules plainly prohibit attorneys from providing financial assistance to a client, except in no recovery no fee contingency matters, or when representing indigent clients.

Perhaps Cohen misread the rule to say indignant clients, or perhaps he just lied to the media. Either way, one would think that something is amiss, ethically, there. Cohen faced questions as to whether the payment was actually a campaign contribution in excess of the rules, and he seems to be steadfastly maintaining that neither Trump nor the Trump Organization were parties to the payment made and that it was unrelated to campaign finance.

Financial Assistance Not Available

It will be an uphill battle for Cohen to prove, at least in the court of public opinion, that the payment he made was anything other than hush money, and that the individual paid had an affair with the current president (and that the president probably would have benefited but for the way this story has blown up in the media). This will make it incredibly difficult to rebut the fact that the payment can be considered financial assistance to a client, which the New York ethics rules prohibit.

Alternatively, the $130,000 really only kept the lurid details out of the media. The media-consuming public all now know basically for certain, because they can all imply from the context of the situation, that Trump and the adult actress had a thing. That's all they need to know and, in all reality, no one really wants to know the explicit details of what that thing was ... and for that, maybe, just maybe, we should all thank Cohen.

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