President Trump’s New Claim of Reimbursing Michael Cohen for Hush Money Payment Strengthens Case For Campaign Finance Violations

May 3, 2018
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FEC must investigate this matter so future campaigns don’t feel empowered to ignore reporting requirements necessary for transparency

In televised interviews on Fox News, Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for President Trump, asserted that Trump reimbursed Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen for the $130,000 payment to silence Stormy Daniels about their alleged affair, just days before the 2016 presidential election. President Trump thereafter tweeted confirming that he made the reimbursement.

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) President Trevor Potter released the following statement:

“Trump’s admission that he later repaid Cohen for the hush money destroys any argument Cohen could have made that the payment was out of his own money as an independent expenditure. Instead, Cohen and the Trump campaign now have to argue that the payment reimbursed by the candidate was not 'in connection with the election,' and therefore was not an excessive in-kind contribution by Cohen (when made and for the months prior to his being reimbursed). They have to make the same claim to defend against the charge that the campaign violated the law by failing to report these transactions on its Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports. Those arguments are much harder to make after Giuliani’s statement that the payment prevented news of the affair emerging before the Clinton-Trump debates, since that is an admission that the confidentiality agreement and the timing of the payment influenced the 2016 elections.

Given the new accounts by Trump and Giuliani, it now appears Cohen violated campaign finance law when he fronted the $130,000 payment with funds financed by his home mortgage because that constitutes a campaign contribution by him well in excess of the $2,700 limit, and the Trump campaign (through its agent, the candidate) violated the law by accepting an excessive contribution and failing to report it. If this is the case, then the campaign further violated the law by failing to report Trump’s subsequent repayments to Cohen.

This is a reminder of why disclosure and reporting laws are on the books in the first place: if these transactions were properly reported by the Trump campaign in October 2016, it would have triggered public attention to the issue, and would have given voters relevant information that could be factored into their decision-making.

It is important for the FEC to take this matter seriously and open an investigation, so future campaigns don’t feel empowered to ignore requirements put in place to keep campaigns transparent about who is funding campaigns and how campaigns are spending money.

With this latest explanation, President Trump finds himself between something of a rock and a hard place. If this payment was a $460,000 loan from Michael Cohen, as Rudy Giuliani claimed, Trump was required to disclose it in the financial disclosure report that he filed in June 2017 with the Office of Government Ethics. The law required him to disclose any loan that was greater than $10,000 at any time during 2016 or the first half of 2017. He didn’t disclose it and, if the omission was intentional, he could be subject to civil or criminal penalties.”

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