Trump’s Lawyer Paid $130,000 To A Porn Star To Keep Her Quiet About Nothing?

Ken AshfordStormy Daniels & Karen McDougal Affairs, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

A longtime personal attorney for President Trump said Tuesday that he paid $130,000 to an adult-film star who had told people she had an affair with Trump a decade before he won the presidency (and while Trump’s wife Melania was several months pregnant).

Michael Cohen, who had previously dismissed reports about the payment, said he paid Stormy Daniels — whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — using his own money, rather than involving the Trump Organization or the Trump presidential campaign. His comments came after a watchdog group argued that the payout should be viewed as an unreported campaign expense, which Cohen denied.

Here’s some of what Cohen said yesterday:

In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford [Daniels’s real name]. Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly. The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.

You might notice that he doesn’t explain WHY he paid Ms. Clifford, which leaves a big question hanging in the air. In fact, as law professor Orin Kerr notes, Cohen’s statement also leaves unclear whether he is saying he paid the $130,000 himself or simply saying that he paid for her to receive the funds.

But perhaps more importantly from a legal standpoint, there is one main Trump-related entity that Cohen doesn’t deny was “party to the transaction” or reimbursed Cohen, and that’s Trump himself. It’s also noteworthy that Cohen uses the word “facilitate” — a word that seems to leave open to the possibility that the chain doesn’t end at the use of “my own personal funds.”

So, in short, I have several questions for Mr. Cohen:

(1) Was the $130,000 itself from your personal funds?
(2) For what reason(s) was Ms. Clifford paid?
(3) Who, if anybody, asked/told you to pay (or facilitate payment of) Ms. Clifford?
(4) How/when was the amount of $130,000 determined or negotiated?
(5) Was Donald Trump personally “a party to the transaction”?
(6) Did Donald Trump personally= reimburse you “either directly or indirectly”?
(7) Was the payment in any way caused by publicity — or to avoid publicity — that would affect the Trump campaign or presidency?

This last question goes to the heart of campaign finance laws.

The watchdog group Common Cause announced last month that it was filing federal complaints alleging that the reported $130,000 payout may have violated campaign finance laws. The group argued that the payment was an unreported in-kind contribution to Trump’s campaign. In a letter to federal authorities, Paul S. Ryan, a campaign finance expert with Common Cause, said the settlement should have been considered a campaign expense “because the funds were paid for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential general election.”

The pair of complaints filed by Common Cause said that regardless of where the $130,000 payment originated — even “if Donald J. Trump provided the funds” — the money was aimed at affecting the election and then never reported.

After Cohen’s statement last night, Ryan said that “the timing and circumstances” of the payment “make it appear that the hush money was paid to Daniels in an effort to influence the election.” Ryan called again for the Federal Election Commission and Justice Department to investigate.

“Questions about the payment and the circumstances behind it must be answered, and they must be answered under oath,” Ryan said in a statement.

Cohen said Common Cause’s claims of campaign finance violations “are factually unsupported and without legal merit, and my counsel has submitted a response to the” Federal Election Commission.

“The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone,” Cohen said, noting that he did not plan to make any further comments on the issue.

He added: “Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you harm or damage. I will always protect Mr. Trump.”

It’s difficult to dismiss the payment either as a coincidence, given Cohen is a lawyer (Trump’s “fix-it” guy, by his own admission) and has carefully parsed his comments throughout this situation. He has regularly offered what seemed to be denials but didn’t totally deny the details of what has been reported.

To be honest, the lion’s share of that “narrative” has now been confirmed by Cohen himself. And whether Trump actually engaged in an affair with Clifford/Daniels is kind of beside the point — at least legally speaking.

But therein lies a problem… it’s not necessarily proof that the payment was a campaign contribution. Remarkably, if Cohen as part of his duties at the Trump Organization regularly made similar payments to other people in the same context — if, that is, he regularly paid tens of thousands of dollars to women to buy their silence — it would suggest that this particular payment might simply be business as usual and not related to Trump’s electoral efforts.

Let’s consider five different possibilities for who might have paid Daniels, working from outside in: a business outside of the campaign, an individual outside of the campaign, someone working for the campaign, the campaign itself or the candidate.

If the money was in fact meant to aid the campaign, here are the implications if any of the above parties were the source of the money.

(1) A business outside the campaign. If the source of the $130,000 was a business, Noble says, and the contribution was considered a campaign contribution, it would be illegal. Businesses can’t make payments of that size to a campaign.

(2) An individual outside of the campaign. Let’s say that some random wealthy Trump supporter stumbled onto the Daniels story and decided to offer her payment to stay quiet. Interestingly, Noble said, this might not be a violation of campaign finance laws. Instead, it would function more as an independent expenditure on behalf of the Trump campaign.

But it’s essential that this person have no connection to the campaign.

(3) Someone working for the campaign. It can be hard to determine who counts as an “agent” of a political campaign. Someone on payroll, certainly. Someone reimbursed for expenses, yes. But does Cohen count? He wasn’t paid by the campaign, though he regularly appeared on television on Trump’s behalf.

That said, in Cohen’s most infamous media appearance he clearly presented himself as working with the campaign and explaining staff changes the campaign was making.

(4) The campaign itself. The Trump campaign could have made this payment legally. It would simply have had to report it, which it didn’t. (That reporting in this case would have presumably been a payment to Essential Consultants LLC, the corporation Cohen created.) It would be spending $130,000 of money contributed by donors, which might carry some political risks.

(5) The candidate. Unless the contributor was the candidate himself. Trump gave millions to his own campaign and could legally have given $130,000, which was then paid out to Daniels through the LLC.

But, again, it would have to be reported, which it wasn’t.

So what are we looking at if there was a violation? Potentially. Certainly a civil violation, but it could rise to a criminal violation, depending on who knew what, and when. For example, the DOJ does pursue people for filing (or causing to be filed) false reports to the Federal Election Commission.  Here’s a recent example.

For the sake of future reference….

Of note:

Stormy Daniels has suddenly changed her position and is ready to spill all the tea regarding her alleged affair with Donald Trump, and it all has to do with the president’s personal attorney allegedly breaching a contract he negotiated with the porn star.

Sources close to Daniels tell The Blast that her legal team notified President Trump’s legal team, including attorney Michael Cohen, that they are in violation of the agreement they made back in 2016.

Cohen said on Tuesday that he had paid a pornographic actress $130,000 out of his own pocket in 2016 who had claimed to have had an affair with Trump. Cohen stressed that “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.”

We’re told Daniels — real name Stephanie Clifford — believes Cohen’s admission is a breach of their contract, and that she is now excused from “further performance of the non-disclosure agreement” between the two parties.