Congress

Billionaire Phil Ruffin says he’s the Kansan mentioned at Michael Cohen hearing

Cohen asked about Kansas businessman’s involvement in Trump University settlement

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) asked Michael Cohen during a House Oversight hearing who paid the $25 million Trump University settlement. Speier asked Cohen if a Kansas businessman was involved.
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Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) asked Michael Cohen during a House Oversight hearing who paid the $25 million Trump University settlement. Speier asked Cohen if a Kansas businessman was involved.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include comments from a spokeswoman for Ruffin correcting the date of a payment to Trump.

Billionaire Phil Ruffin said Wednesday that he is the anonymous Kansas businessman mentioned during the marathon questioning of President Donald Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen.

“Yes, I am,” said Ruffin, a casino mogul who grew up in Wichita and has close ties to Trump.

Ruffin’s connection to the president surfaced when Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, asked Cohen at a House Oversight Committee hearing who paid $25 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by former students of the defunct Trump University. The school promised insights into secrets of the real estate business, but students said they were defrauded.

“I believe it was Mr. Trump. I don’t know the answer,” Cohen replied.

Speier responded that “there’s some reference to a businessman in Kansas being involved in that. Are you familiar with that?” Cohen said he was not aware of that person.

Ruffin, who co-owns the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas with the president, said in a phone interview Wednesday he had no involvement in the Trump University case.

But Ruffin, 83, said that Speier might be referring to a $28 million payment Trump received from the hotel, which could have later been used to pay off the settlement.

“He had $28 million in back fees that he never collected,” Ruffin said in a phone call Wednesday. “The hotel paid him [what] was owed to him. I don’t know what he did… It was his money.”

Ruffin told The Star the hotel’s payment to Trump occurred in 2018, the same year as the Trump University settlement. However, a spokeswoman for Ruffin said in an email a week after the story’s publication that the payment actually took place in 2016, the same year that Trump was elected president.

“Those payments were made on 2016. He got confused,” Ruffin spokeswoman Michelle Knoll said in an email.

Ruffin said that Trump did not charge interest on the fees owed to him and that as co-owner half of the money was coming out of the president’s own pocket.

Speier’s office would not confirm whether Ruffin was the Kansan she was referencing during her questioning of Cohen. Ruffin primarily lives in Nevada now, but continues to maintain deep ties to Wichita after living most of his life in Kansas.

Trump’s has a long-standing friendship with Ruffin. He was best man at Ruffin’s 2008 wedding, which took place at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Ruffin was an early mega-contributor to the Make America Great PAC and served as a campaign surrogate in Kansas ahead of the 2016 caucus.

Ruffin emphasized that he does not personally know Cohen and had no comment on his testimony.

Trump’s legal team did not address the Trump University case or Ruffin when asked about Speier’s references to a Kansas businessman. Instead, the legal team provided a statement that rebutted another portion of Cohen’s testimony.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau’s Kate Irby and Wichita Eagle’s Carrie Rengers contributed to this report.

Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.

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