February 27, 2019 / 2:03 PM / 6 months ago

Exclusive: House panel seeks to depose Trump tax, ethics attorneys

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. House panel investigating President Donald Trump wants to depose Trump’s long-time tax lawyer Sheri Dillon, as well as Stefan Passantino, former deputy White House Counsel in charge of compliance and ethics, according to letters sent to both of them on Wednesday and seen by Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with U.S. governors at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

House of Representatives Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Democrat, said in the letters that the panel wants to ask about Trump’s legally mandated financial ethics disclosures.

The panel, the letters said, also seeks information about payments made before the 2016 presidential election by former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen to buy the silence of women who claimed they had affairs with the married Trump.

Neither Dillon nor Passantino responded immediately to requests for comment. The White House also did not immediately have a comment.

The letters, sent hours before Cohen was set to testify to the committee about his work for Trump, signals a widening of its investigation into Trump’s personal finances.

Dillon has a deep understanding of the president’s tax filings. Breaking with decades of presidential tradition, Trump has refused to make his tax returns public, leading other Democrats in Congress also to seek them. The letter did not indicate the committee would question Dillon about Trump’s tax returns.

The Cummings letters targets a 92-page ethics disclosure form that Trump filed in May 2018. It said he repaid Cohen in 2017 for a $130,000 payment made weeks before the November 2016 election to porn actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, to silence her over an alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.

A June 2017 disclosure filed by Trump did not list a debt owed to Cohen. Some critics of the president have said this omission amounted to filing a false report, a federal crime.

In the letters to Dillon and Passantino, Cummings wrote that interviews with them “will address issues related to President Donald Trump’s financial disclosure reporting and the reimbursement of Michael Cohen for payments to silence women alleging affairs before the 2016 election.”

He added that, to accommodate committee Republicans’ concerns, Dillon and Passantino would be able to provide “a first-hand account of your interactions with the Office of Government Ethics.”

Passantino’s signature appeared on the 2018 disclosure filing, confirming that he concluded Trump was “in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.”

Passantino, summoned to appear on March 18, is now a legal adviser to the Trump Organization, the president’s business.

Dillon, summoned to appear on March 19, is a partner at the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. She detailed Trump’s business investments at a press conference in 2016 shortly after he was elected and would likely have helped prepare the ethics disclosure, which provides an account of his business holdings.

Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Lisa Shumaker

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