Cummings seeks testimony from 2 more Trump attorneys about Cohen payments

WASHINGTON — Two relatively unknown figures could soon emerge as key players in the congressional investigations into President Donald Trump.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings is interested in talking to Sheri Dillon and Stefan Passantino, attorneys responsible for the president's ethics and financial disclosures. They could be central to determining whether Trump committed crimes by making hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Neither has indicated a willingness to cooperate with Cummings' committee, having disregarded a March 6 deadline set by the Maryland Democrat to agree to provide transcribed interviews to his committee later next week, according to Democratic aides.

In an early test of his ability to compel Trump officials and allies to provide information to Congress, Cummings may be forced to play hardball — including issuing subpoenas — to get them to comply.

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Michael Cohen testifies before House
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Michael Cohen testifies before House
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, arrives to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, is sworn in to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on February 27, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on February 27, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, listens during a House Oversight Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Cohen plans to tell a congressional committee about alleged misdeeds by his former boss, claiming that Trump knew during the 2016 presidential election that his ally Roger Stone was talking to Julian Assange of WikiLeaks about a release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, listens during a House Oversight Committee hearing with Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Cohen plans to tell a congressional committee about alleged misdeeds by his former boss, claiming that Trump knew during the 2016 presidential election that his ally Roger Stone was talking to Julian Assange of WikiLeaks about a release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio and ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, pauses while speaking during a hearing with Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Cohen plans to tell a congressional committee about alleged misdeeds by his former boss, claiming that Trump knew during the 2016 presidential election that his ally Roger Stone was talking to Julian Assange of WikiLeaks about a release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on February 27, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez(D-NY) listens as Michael Cohen, attorney for President Trump, testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on February 27, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, holds document during a House Oversight Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Cohen brought documents to Wednesday's congressional hearing to back up his case that his former boss is a 'con man' and 'a cheat.' Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 27: A copy of a check paid to Michael Cohen by President Trump is displayed as Michael Cohen, former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump testifies before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill February 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. Last year Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine for tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, unlawful excessive campaign contributions and lying to Congress as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 27: Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., is seen during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in Rayburn Building featuring testimony by Michael Cohen, former attorney for President Donald Trump, on Russian interference in the 2016 election on Wednesday, February 27, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 27: Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., left, and ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, are seen during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in Rayburn Building featuring testimony by Michael Cohen, former attorney for President Donald Trump, on Russian interference in the 2016 election on Wednesday, February 27, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on February 27, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 27: Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., is seen during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in Rayburn Building featuring testimony by Michael Cohen, former attorney for President Donald Trump, on Russian interference in the 2016 election on Wednesday, February 27, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 27: From left, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., are seen during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in Rayburn Building featuring testimony by Michael Cohen, former attorney for President Donald Trump, on Russian interference in the 2016 election on Wednesday, February 27, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump's former personal attorney is seen on the tv at the Fox News Headquarters in the Newscorp Building on 6th Avenue in New York February 27, 2019 as the Ticker Tap flashes headlines while he testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks during a House Oversight Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Cohen brought documents to Wednesday's congressional hearing to back up his case that his former boss is a 'con man' and 'a cheat.' Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 27: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) listens to testimony by Michael Cohen, former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump, before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill February 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. Last year Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine for tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, unlawful excessive campaign contributions and lying to Congress as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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Passantino and Dillon are among the first targets Cummings is pursuing since Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, testified in front of the committee on Feb. 27.

According to requests from the committee sent to each of the lawyers, as well as the White House, the two "appeared to provide false information" to federal officials about payments to Cohen to keep the alleged Trump affair from becoming public.

At issue are financial disclosure forms they filed with the Office of Government Ethics and ethics officials' written notes documenting "evolving stories" from the two about the payments and Trump's failure to disclose them. Passantino was a White House deputy counsel in charge of ethics policy, and is now working for the Trump Organization to field inquiries from the Democratic-led House. His signature was on Trump's disclosure form. Dillon is a personal attorney for Trump.

Republicans, in a letter to Cummings, said suggestions that the two may have lied are "extremely unfair and unsupported accusations."

"This is a serious charge, for which you relied only on cherry-picked passages of incomplete, one-sided handwritten notes prepared by OGE staff," wrote Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the committee, and Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who also said the charges were made public before speaking directly to the attorneys.

But Democrats say the lawyers may have good reason to avoid the newly empowered Democratic House majority.

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Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels hush payment scandal
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Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels hush payment scandal
Adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels speaks to the media outside US Federal Court on April 16, 2018, in Lower Manhattan, New York. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months over his business dealings, and FBI agents last week raided his home, hotel room, office, a safety deposit box and seized two cellphones. Some of the documents reportedly relate to payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims a one-night stand with Trump a decade ago, and ex Playboy model Karen McDougal who also claims an affair. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen arrives at federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Michael Avenatti, lawyer for adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, leaves federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Michael Cohen's attorney Todd Harrison arrives at federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen (centre) leaves federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid
Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels speaks to media along with lawyer Michael Avenatti (R) outside federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Michael Cohen's attorney Todd Harrison is pictured outside the Manhattan Federal Court in New York City, New York, U.S., April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen exits a hotel in New York City, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, speaks to media along with lawyer Michael Avenatti (R) outside federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid
Attorney for Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti is pictured though a window as he arrives at federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and attorney Michael Avenatti arrive at Federal Court in New York, U.S., on Monday, April 16, 2018. Daniels claims she had sex with Donald Trump in 2006 and took a $130,000 hush payment shortly before the 2016 election from lawyer Michael Cohen. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
President Trumps lawyer Michael Cohen exits the US Federal Court on April 16, 2018, in Lower Manhattan, New York. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months over his business dealings, and FBI agents last week raided his home, hotel room, office, a safety deposit box and seized two cellphones. Some of the documents reportedly relate to payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims a one-night stand with Trump a decade ago, and ex Playboy model Karen McDougal who also claims an affair. / AFP PHOTO / EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ (Photo credit should read EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, (C) also known as Stormy Daniels arrives for a court hearing at the US Courthouse in New York on April 16, 2018. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months over his business dealings, and FBI agents last week raided his home, hotel room, office, a safety deposit box and seized two cellphones. / AFP PHOTO / Hector RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Attorney for Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti(C), arrives for a court hearing at the US Courthouse in New York on April 16, 2018. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months over his business dealings, and FBI agents last week raided his home, hotel room, office, a safety deposit box and seized two cellphones. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 13: Michael Avenatti (R), attorney for Stormy Daniels, arrives for a court proceeding regarding the search warrants served on President Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen, at the United States District Court Southern District of New York, April 13, 2018 in New York City. Cohen and his lawyers are asking the court to block Justice Department officials from reading documents and materials related to his relationship with President Donald Trump that they believe should be protected by attorney-client privilege. Officials with the FBI, armed with a search warrant, raided Cohen's office and two private residences earlier in the week. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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"It's often the second-tier players who know a lot and reveal a lot," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat on the committee. As examples, Connolly pointed to Alexander Butterfield, a White House aide who revealed President Richard Nixon's taping system, as well as a bookkeeper who helped convict mobster Al Capone of tax evasion.

"These folks may not be household names but they could prove critical witnesses in providing corroborating testimony and further details" about what may be "a violation of federal election law" and a "conspiracy" to affect the 2016 election, Connolly said.

Cummings has said he will also probably request testimony from Allen Weisselberg, the Trump family's longtime accountant and the Trump Organization's chief financial officer, who has been granted immunity to share information by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.

Cohen has pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance regulations connected to his payment of $130,000 to Daniels to keep her from making public her claims of an affair with Trump just days ahead of the November 2016 election. Trump has denied Daniels' claim.

In a Dec. 7, 2018, sentencing memo, federal prosecutors said Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 election and "in coordination with and at the direction of Individual 1," or Trump.

Cohen has said he paid Daniels through a shell company he created in October 2016 called Essential Consultants LLC using his own money, which Trump was to reimburse in payments over several months. Cohen has testified that he made the payment "in coordination with and at the direction of" Trump "for the principal purpose of influencing the election."

Under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, federal officials, including the president, must publicly disclose financial liabilities that could affect their decision-making. Yet Trump's disclosure form, covering January 2016 to April of 2017, failed to include his debts to Cohen. The president personally signed the form.

In her discussions with ethics officials, Dillon, who initially denied any payments were made to Cohen in talks with ethics officials, later likened them to "routine vendor payments" or "payments for a kitchen remodel," according to the letter from Cummings, citing internal notes from officials in the Office of Government Ethics.

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Donald Trump through the years
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Donald Trump through the years

Donald Trump with Alfred Eisenpreis, New York City Economic Development Administrator. Sketch of new 1,400 room Renovation project of Commodore Hotel.

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Real estate developer Donald Trump announces intentions to build a $100 million dollar Regency Hotel.

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Donald Trump stands behind architect's model of City Hall Plaza.

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Donald Trump and Ivana Trump attend Roy Cohn's birthday party in February 1980 in New York City.

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Donna Mills and Donald Trump during 1983 Annual American Image Awards at Sheraton Center in New York City, New York, United States.

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Donald Trump attends 38th Annual Horatio Alger Awards Dinner on May 10, 1985 at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City.

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Portrait of real estate mogul Donald John Trump (b.1946), smiling slightly and facing to his right, 1983. New York.

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Boxing promoter Don King holds up the arms of Mike Tyson and former champion Larry Holmes during a press conference here 12/1. Looking on is Donald Trump. The fight will be held at the Trump Plaza Hotel.

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Donald Trump, real estate mogul, entrepreneur, and billionare poses in the foyer of his home in August 1987 in Greenwich, Connecticut.

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Donald Trump Jr. and Donald Trump during 1988 U.S. Open - September 3, 1988 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, New York, United States.

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Ivana Trump and Donald Trump during Mike Tyson vs Michael Spinks Fight at Trump Plaza - June 27, 1988 at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Billionaire Donald Trump and his wife Ivana arrive 04 December 1989 at a social engagement in New York.

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Donald Trump and Daughter Ivanka Trump during Maybelline Presents 1991 Look of the Year at Plaza Hotel in New York City, New York, United States.

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Donald Trump and Joan Rivers during Opening of The Rose Room in the Plaza Hotel at Plaza Hotel Rose Room in New York City, New York, United States.

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Donald Trump touches 07 April 1993 Marla Maples stomach to confirm published reports that the actress is pregnant with his child. The two arrived for Maples appearance in the Broadway musical 'The Will Rogers Follies'.

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US business tycoon Donald Trump enters the PLaza Hotel in New York past supporters 21 December 1994. Hundreds of supporters showed up at a news conference where Trump denied a New York newspaper report that the Sultan of Brunei had bid 300 million USD to buy the Manhattan hotel.

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Donald Trump and Christine Whitman during Opening of New Warner Bros. Store in Trump Plaza Casino at Trump Plaza Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States.

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Donald Trump attends Marc Jacobs Fashion Show on April 4, 1995 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Boxing: IBC Heavyweight Title: View of celebrity businessman Donald Trump and actor Steven Seagal seated ringside during Lennox Lewis vs Tommy Morrison fight at Boardwalk Convention Hall. Atlantic City, NJ. (Photo by John Iacono /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) 

New York real estate giant Donald Trump poses in his Trump Tower office on a giant letter 'T' on May 8, 1996.

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Portrait of Marla Maples and her husband, businessman Donald Trump, with their daughter Tiffany, as they pose together at the Mar-a-Lago estate, Palm Beach, Florida, 1996.

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Donald Trump and Ron Delsner backstage at a KISS concert at Madison Squre Garden in New York City on July 25, 1996.

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Donald Trump attending Halloween party thrown by Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss at the Supper Club to kick off Fashion Week.  

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Donald Trump open his new building at 1 Center Park West- The new Trump International Hotel and Tower.

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Donald Trump and his girlfriend Celina Midelfar watch Conchita Martinez and Amanda Coetzer 07 September at US Open in Flushing Meadows, NY.

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Celine Dion, husband Rene, Donald Trump & Ivanka Trump

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Entrepreneur Donald Trump and Rev. Al Sharpton speak at a ribbon cutting ceremony for Sharpton's National Action Network Convention April 5, 2002 in New York City. The group aims to further the development of civil rights.

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Donald Trump and his girlfriend Melania Knauss attend the Marc Bouwer/Peta Fall/Winter 2002 Collection show February 14, 2002 during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City.

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Donald Trump at Madison Square Garden

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Donald Trump stands on the sidelines before the start of the AFC divisional playoffs between the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans on January 10, 2004 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Temperatures have reached as low as 7 degrees in the Foxboro area.

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Donald Trump, Visionary Business Leader award honoree, poses with his children Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka at Fashion Group International's 22nd Annual 'Night Of Stars' at Cipriani's 42nd Street October 27, 2005 in New York City.

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Eric Trump and Donald Trump attend the Chicago Bulls vs New Jersey Nets game at the IZOD Center on October 31, 2007 in East Rutherford, New York.

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 Donald Trump delivers a speech with his son Barron after he was honored with the 2,327th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, CA, 16 January 2007.

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Portrait of former model Melania Trump and her husband, businessman Donald Trump, as they sit together at a table during the 16th annual 'Lady in Red' gala, hosted by LIFE (Leaders In Furthering Education), at the Mar-a-Lago club, Palm Beach, Florida, December 4, 2009.

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Donald Trump sands with Miss Universe 2009 Stefania Fernandez of Venezuela prior to the Miss Universe 2010 Pageant Final at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas on August 23, 2010. Miss Universe is an annual international beauty pageant and along with the Miss World is the most publicized beauty contest in the world. California clothing company Pacific Mills founded the contest 1952 and was acquired by Donald Trump in 1996.

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US tycoon Donald Trump arrives to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 27, 2015.

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Real estate mogul and billionaire Donald Trump attends Golf legend Jack Nicklaus' Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda March 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. Trump announed on March 18 that he has launched a presidential exploratory committee.

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts to an answer his wife Melania gives during an interview on NBC's "Today" show in New York, April 21, 2016.

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After it was initially reported in January of 2018 that Cohen had paid Daniels through a shell company, Dillon at first denied to ethics officials that Trump ever owed any money to Cohen in 2016 and 2017. Dillon even said she had "confirmed that with the filer," or Trump, that he did not owe Cohen any money. "Not that I'm aware of," Dillon said.

Days after ethics officials demanded that Dillon confirm Trump's claim in writing, Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, appeared on television admitting Trump had reimbursed Cohen for his payments to Stormy Daniels and characterized it as a "retainer."

Trump himself the next day confirmed the payments in a tweet, stating Cohen had "received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign." Ethics officials again approached Dillon for further explanation. At that point, she acknowledged Trump had reimbursed Cohen and said the "mechanisms for reimbursement changed over time."

"This raises significant questions about why some of the president's closest advisers made these false claims and the extent to which they too were acting at the direction of, or in coordination with, the president," Cummings wrote.

After the president's admission, Dillon insisted all payments were in connection with legal services and likened them to payments for a "kitchen remodel." Passantino also described the payments as a "retainer," according to Cummings. When officials asked Dillon to see the retainer, she refused and accused federal ethics officials of overstepping their jurisdiction.

In May of 2018, Trump amended his form, noting payments to Cohen in monthly installments that covered other services including "tech services," but insisted those disclosures were not required. Passantino's signature was on that filing, which concluded Trump was "in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations."

On May 8, 2018, as Dillon continued to defend the payments as "routine," she also said: "Let the facts come out as they may and let the criticism fall on the president."

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