It is both hilarious and fitting that an affair with a porn star could be the “getting Al Capone on tax evasion” of the Trump presidency. The Russia case is a murky brew of both a criminal and counterintelligence investigation, and the awesome power of the presidency makes it incredibly difficult for Trump to get hit hard, even if Robert Mueller finds unimpeachable evidence of a crime(s). Federal Election Commission law however, is far more black and white in comparison, and hoo-boy, has Donald Trump been caught in one sticky web on this front.
His lawyer/fixer, Michael Cohen—the same Michael Cohen who’s entire life was raided by the Feds earlier this month—admitted to paying Stormy Daniels $130,000 the week before the election in order to buy her silence about an affair she had with Trump shortly after his son Barron was born. Given the timing of the payment, it’s impossible to state that an agreement of this nature was not political, and if that money was ultimately paid by Trump and not Cohen, that is a cut and dry violation of FEC law. That, not Russia (for now), is the cloud hanging over the Michael Cohen drama. On Thursday, April 5th, Donald Trump denied any knowledge of this payment. Per NBC:
Trump said he had not been aware that Cohen had made the payment, nor did not know where the money came from. Asked why Cohen paid Daniels, Trump replied, “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael.”
The Feds showed up with a search warrant at Michael Cohen’s Rockefeller Center office and Park Avenue hotel room on Monday, April 9. It’s not crazy to wonder if Trump’s denial triggered the search, as the FBI could juxtapose it with evidence they already obtained to get an order from a judge so they can dig into the muck and figure out what’s really going on (Stormy Daniels’ lawyer may have previewed this series of events in a tweet, and his subsequent cryptic reference about a $1.6 million payment on Morning Joe).
Day by day, the ridiculous firewall that Trump’s legal team has put around this payment shrinks, little by little. Today’s development puts a few more cracks in the foundation. Per ABC:
The Trump campaign has spent nearly $228,000 to cover some of the legal expenses for President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, sources familiar with the payments tell ABC News, raising questions about whether the Trump campaign may have violated campaign finance laws.
Federal Election Commission records show three payments made from the Trump campaign to a firm representing Cohen. The “legal consulting” payments were made to McDermott Will and Emery — a law firm where Cohen’s attorney Stephen Ryan is a partner — between October 2017 and January 2018.
Stephen Spaulding, chief of strategy at the nonprofit watchdog group, Common Cause aptly summarized the mess Trump and his cronies find themselves in:
“They’re on shaky legal ground. It sounds like they are really pushing the envelope … If the campaign were to say they are campaign-related payments, then maybe it’s okay to use campaign funds. But he can’t have it both ways.”
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.