We finally found out why Michael Cohen used a home-equity line of credit to pay hush money to a porn star with whom President Trump allegedly had an affair. And it wasn’t just to hide his and Trump’s misdeeds from the public or prosecutors.
During Cohen's testimony last week before the House Oversight Committee, the former personal attorney and self-proclaimed "fixer" for Trump explained how he went so far as to create a limited liability company so that he could wire a $130,000 payment to an attorney representing Stormy Daniels, who says she had a sexual relationship with Trump. The money was intended to keep Daniels from going public about the alleged affair during the 2016 election.
Cohen described his deception during questioning by Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill.
"Can you tell us why you decided to use this complicated process to make this payment?" Kelly asked.
I was not expecting what came next.
"The reason that I used the home-equity line of credit as opposed to cash that I had in the same exact bank was that I didn't want my wife to know about it," Cohen said. "She handles all of the banking. And I didn't want her coming to me and asking, 'What's the $130,000 for?'"
Talk about a wow moment.
"I didn't want to explain to her what that payment was about," Cohen said.
It had never made sense to me that Cohen would use a home-equity line of credit to make the payment. One has to wonder: Had Cohen's wife known what was going on, would she have been able to stop him from taking an action that did monumental damage to their family and their finances?
"I am going to jail in part because of my decision to help Mr. Trump hide that payment from the American people before they voted a few days later," Cohen said.
If we believe Cohen that his wife was unaware of the hush-money scheme, what he did is an extreme example of financial infidelity. Couples, take heed. Lying to your spouse about your financial dealings either directly or by omission is wrong. It may not be criminal, but nonetheless it is a huge violation of trust.
Spouses will often argue with me that if they keep money in separate accounts they aren't obligated to disclose how it's spent. However, whether the money is kept in separate or joint accounts, how it's used or misused can impact the financial health and well being of your family.
Many people aren't honest with their significant others. About one in five people in a relationship has a credit card or bank account that the other partner doesn't know about, according to a recent CreditCards.com survey.
"Acts of financial deception can be detrimental to a relationship," said Billy Hensley, president and chief executive of the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE). "This infidelity leads to arguments, a breakdown in trust, and in some cases, can lead to separation or divorce."
"The more common acts of financial deception include hiding a purchase or receipt, or maybe even stashing a little cash on the side," he said. "These acts may seem minor, but this can lead to more significant offenses like hiding accounts, lying about income, or being secretive over debt."
Of those millennials 23 to 37 who are married or living as married, 18 percent don't know their partner's salary, according to a 2018 Bank of America survey.
Be on the lookout for warning signs of financial lies in your relationship, NEFE says. Financial infidelity is real and can be very damaging.
"If your spouse is trying to intercept bills before you see them or is defensive or withdrawn when you bring up money, then that could be a red flag," Hensley said. "If you find your partner or spouse has been financially unfaithful, try to understand why they committed the deception. We find most people commit financial infidelity because they knew their partner wouldn't approve of how they spend money or they were embarrassed about what they did and didn't want their partner to find out."
NEFE has a “LifeValues” quiz at smartaboutmoney.org. If you’re married or in a committed relationship, you both should take the time to figure out what drives your partner financially. Uncover the “why” behind the deceit. Dishonest behavior typically has a backstory.
There’s no question that Cohen took financial infidelity to a whole other level. I like to use such newsworthy events as a teachable moment. Perhaps Cohen’s disclosure might spark a conversation you’ve long needed to have with your spouse or significant other.