Thursday, 25 January 2018 02:02

Would a hush payment to Stormy Daniels by Trump's attorney be a federal violation? Pt. 1

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ryan ccDid Donald Trump or his campaign (or anyone else) violate the federal campaign finance law--assuming an alleged $130,000 was paid to Stormy Daniels by Michael Cohen to silence her from talking about an possible sexual affair in 2006?

This is a question that emanates from a legal filing by Common Cause early this week.


Common Cause lodged the federal complaint with the Federal Election Commission and forwarded that complaint to the Department of Justice requesting an investigation.  Should there be a violation under the criminal statute under the Justice Department jurisdiction, the penalty could amount to a penalty and/or prison.

Today, I interviewed via Facebook LIve and Twitter Live, the Vice President for Litigation Paul S. Ryan, who filed the complaint on behalf of Common Cause.  Below is the transcript of the first part of that interview. Part 2 will be published tomorrow.

If you want to watch the interview in its entirety, it is below. Or, should you want to watch from the end of this narrative, move the video slider to the 8:00 mark.

RYAN: The basis of our complaint we sent it to both the Federal Election Commission the Department of Justice is that there is very good reason to believe that team Trump, specifically the Trump Campaign Committee from the 2016 election violated several provisions of the federal election campaign act by with respect to a payment of $130,000 to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels, just before about 3 weeks before the 2016 election to keep her quiet, keep her from talking about her relationship 10 years prior with now president Donald Trump.

Now a reason that, will tell you a little bit more about the specific allegations of the violations of federal law. The starting point is the Federal Campaign Finance law--defines the term expenditure as any payment for the purpose of influencing a federal election. Here, I think we clearly had a payment to Stormy Daniels through an LLC that was set up by Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen who's also at the time the top lawyer at the Trump organization--and the purpose of this payment was apparently to keep Stormy Daniels quiet at a time when she was talking to several major major national media Outlets, Good Morning America and Slate, possibly others and remember this came-- this was the payment was made, I believe in October 15th of 2016 which was about one week after  there was a scandal that erupted in regarding a tape of President Trump talking about the things he could do to women because of his wealth.

So the Trump campaign was reeling at this time from a sexual assault, a sexual assault scandal or sexual misconduct related-scandal.  So--payment to someone to influence the election that's an expenditure the Trump team was involved, Michael Cohen arranged it all so at a minimum the Trump campaign should have disclosed this to the FEC on its regular campaign financing disclosure reports as an expenditure.  It didn't do so.  

The second part of our allegations, the second big piece is dependent upon where the $130,000 came from.  If the money came from Donald Trump's pocket, there is no other violations--we're just talking about a campaign Finance reporting violation.  Actually the reporting violation is not only failure to report the expenditure out but a failure to report the inkind contribution into the committee. Get back to the source of the funds--it matters because of the money came from Donald Trump's pocket no further violations. However, if it came from the Trump organization, which again Michael Cohen who orchestrated all this was the head lawyer there at the time ,and that was an illegal corporate contribution to the Trump campaign.  And if it came from an individual or another organization, then it was either potentially also an illegal corporate contribution or an illegal excessive individual contributions because the limit on contributions to candidates in 2016 was 2700 bucks.   

So you have a handful of different potential violations here.  The reporting violation seems pretty clear, the illegal contribution violation is depending on where the money came from

Okay so here's a question I have and that is the connexity to the campaign.  I mean you can argue that was just personal rather than campaign-related, am I correct?

RYAN: That the payment was personal?

SABLUDOWSKY:Yea, assuming there was a payment that it was personal but I mean because you don't know the source of the, of the of the money --is that correct?

RYAN:The source doesn't matter when determining the purpose of the payment and I think the facts of the situation, the timing of the payment--3 weeks before the general election, the fact that the recipient was in talks with major media outlets to go public with her story that clearly would have been damaging to the Trump campaign, the fact that it came a week after the Access Hollywood tape had created a firestorm and sexual misconduct scandal for the Trump organization--all of those facts come together in my view to establish that this was pretty clearly a payment to influence the campaign.  That's what brings it within the scope of the campaign Finance laws, if and only if, this is important point--that the Trump team was involved and this means either Donald Trump knew about and involved, was involved in this or some other campaign official knew about and was involved in this

Now hypotheticaly  that Donald Trump knew nothing about this was Michael Cohen acting on his own, then, our case becomes much much harder to prove.  Then in order for us to successfully allege that there was a campaign Finance law violation we need to successfully argue that Michael Cullen was acting in the scope of his agency. He is an agent of Donald Trump that that much is clear whenever you're talking about someone who works for a company owned by Donald Trump, someone who's Donald Trump's personal lawyer, he's an agent. But, was this conduct within the scope of his agency and was he an agent of the Trump campaign doing this?  

If there's no knowledge or involvement of Mr. Trump or his campaign staff that's a hard case to make. I believe that Donald Trump very likely knew all about this.  I also suspect the money probably came from Donald Trump's pocket, but who knows?  But I think Donald Trump knew and was involved that's what makes this a campaign finance violation, not a personal matter of any sort.

SABLUDOWSKY: If it came from his pocket, you are saying that it would not be a campaign violation

RYAN: it would not be a contribution limit violation because candidates are free under the US Supreme Cour’ts interpretation of the First Amendment to spend as much of their own money to support their candidacies as they want.  The law still requires that when they do that, their campaigns report that's spending by the candidate as a contribution into the committee and an expenditure or disbursements out of the committee, but there's no limit on it.  So if they came from Donald Trump's own pocket, we're talking, we're still talking about a disclosure violation, or reporting violation but we're not talking about any sort of contribution, illegal contribution violation.

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