Trump's Campaign-Finance Problems
DOJ announces agreement with National Enquirer to admit that it paid hush money to protect Trump.
The Mueller investigation has as of yet been unable to establish “Russian collusion” with Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, but there are some perilous issues with possible campaign-finance violations that have emerged as yet another tangent of the Mueller investigation.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has turned its attention to potential campaign-finance violations. Two of those violations are related to extortion payments Trump made to silence alleged Trump affairs, which occurred long before he was a candidate. The payments were from Trump and not his campaign, but the complaint is that they constituted undisclosed campaign contributions.
The Justice Department announced an agreement with America Media Inc. (AMI), the parent company of National Enquirer, in which AMI claims it worked “in concert with” Trump’s campaign to kill a story about one of Trump’s now-infamous affairs, in order to conceal “damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election.”
The relevant part of the Federal Election Campaign Act upon which the U.S. Attorney’s charges are filed, notes that “expenditure” is any “purchase, payment, loan, advance, deposit or gift of money, or anything of value, for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” But drilling down, the law excludes personal spending “used to fulfill any commitment, obligation, or expense of a person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s election campaign.” Like funds to silence disputed claims of wrongdoing.
The problem for Trump is that prosecutors now have two witnesses claiming he knew the extortion payoffs would support his campaign. Not only has Cohen implicated Trump in one of the extortion settlements, but the The National Inquirer’s publishing company has also implicated Trump’s complicity in a payment to conceal a second claim about a past affair.
If Trump intentionally directed and paid Cohen to make these payments for the specific purpose of supporting his campaign, and did not report the payment, that would be a felony violation. However, such the most literal interpretation of the FEC laws regarding such expenditures would mean that virtually every candidate, since the law’s enactment 45 years ago, would frequently be in violation of unreported campaign benefits, which is why they are rarely prosecuted and only then, result in fines.
In his defense, Trump declared, “I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law,” and proving he did is a high bar for prosecutors.
Regarding the question of illegality, according to Hans von Spakovsky, former FEC commissioner and the nation’s foremost authority on federal election law: “[The US Attorney’s] theory that anything intended to ‘influence’ an election is a campaign-related expense fails to take into account the statutory limitation on this definition. FECA (52 U.S.C. 30114 (b)(2) specifically says that campaign-related expenses do not include any expenditures ‘used to fulfill any commitment, obligation, or expense of a person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s election campaign.’ Given Trump’s celebrity status, the potential liability to these women existed ‘irrespective of the candidate’s election campaign.’”
There are two cases which may prove beneficial for Trump’s defense should charges be filed by the U.S. Attorney.
First, recall, that the Justice Department failed to convict former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards on campaign finance violations when he ran for president in 2008, and that case is instructive. Edwards was tried on six felony charges after taking $1 million from two wealthy donors and using it to conceal his relationship with his mistress, Rielle Hunter. He faced up to 30 years in prison if he was convicted on all counts.
But Edwards’ acquittal was not so much based on the question of motivation for the campaign fund payments as the prosecution’s ability to hang that motivation around his neck. While Edwards, like Trump, argued that the payments were not campaign contributions made for the exclusive benefit of his campaign. But the judge, according to WaPo, “rejected this argument as a matter of law, ruling that a payment to a candidate’s extramarital sexual partner is a campaign contribution if ‘one of’ the reasons the payment is made is to influence the election.”
However, as reported by the Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Trump was involved in or briefed on nearly every step of the agreements. He directed deals in phone calls and meetings with his self-described fixer, Michael Cohen, and others. The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan has gathered evidence of Mr. Trump’s participation in the transactions.”
As NR’s David French notes, “The best available evidence indicates that Trump’s [hush payments] didn’t exist ‘irrespective’ of his campaign but rather because of his campaign. That’s Michael Cohen’s assertion. The affairs were relatively old – and so was the threat to his family – but the payments were new, rendered at a crucial time in a very close presidential contest.”
Regarding Edwards’ acquittal of those charges, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, declared, “As noted by nearly every campaign finance lawyer who considered the matter, this was a lousy case.”
The Leftmedia propagandists offered similar conclusions for their Democrat candidate. The New York Times noted it was “a case that had no precedent.” The Washington Post observed: “At the time, an array of legal experts, including former prosecutors, questioned the wisdom of bringing the charges against Edwards, saying it was an aggressive interpretation of campaign finance laws.” The Los Angeles Times reported, “The case was unprecedented; no major political candidate has been charged with campaign finance corruption for attempts to hide a mistress…” Even MSNBC’s Chris Matthews insisted, “This John Edwards trial, this was a waste of time, money and public attention.”
And the second case which may help Trump is that of Barack Obama, who was fined $375,000 for almost $2 million in campaign contribution “irregularities.” No demand for felony convictions or his impeachment.
However, there is no chance that Trump will be exonerated of wrongdoing, as Democrats and their hostile Leftmedia propagandists are anxious for impeachment fodder. They will pull out every stop to advance these charges.