It Looks Like the Hush Money to Stormy Daniels Might Be a Big-Time Campaign Finance Violation After All

Stormy Daniels: Clinton Wallace/Globe Photos/ZUMA; Michael Cohen: Tom Williams/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom via ZUMA

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The Wall Street Journal reported something interesting today about Michael Cohen: back in September 2016, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer contacted him about making a hush money payment to keep Stormy quiet about her affair with Trump. Cohen told him to pound sand.

But a few weeks later, the Access Hollywood “grab ’em by the pussy” tape became public and Stormy’s lawyer decided to give Cohen another call. Sure enough, suddenly he was interested in cutting a deal. This suggests that the $130,000 payment they eventually agreed on wasn’t meant, say, to keep the affair secret from Melania. After all, why would you be indifferent about that in September but suddenly care deeply about it in October? Election law expert Rick Hasen explains what this means:

The Journal reports federal prosecutors view the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape as the “trigger” for Cohen’s payments to Daniels. That’s a big deal. Two important Republican election lawyers have attempted to set a high bar for how to tell when a payment in this context might be campaign-related rather than personal.

Charlie Spies told the Journal in February that the payment to Daniels was “an expense that would exist irrespective of whether Mr. Trump was a candidate and therefore should not be treated as a campaign contribution.” And former Federal Election Commission chair Brad Smith wrote in an April op-ed in the Journal that “FEC regulations explain that the campaign cannot pay expenses that would exist ‘irrespective’ of the campaign, even if it might help win election. At the same time, obligations that would not exist ‘but for’ the campaign must be paid from campaign funds.”

In other words, this is evidence that the $130,000 payment wasn’t “irrespective” of Trump’s campaign. The campaign was in full swing in September and Cohen didn’t care, but as soon as the Access Hollywood tape increased the damage that Stormy Daniels could do, he cared a lot. If a jury agrees, this becomes a serious, full-blown campaign finance violation. And all the evidence suggests that Trump knew about it.

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