FEC Closes Case on Alleged Trump Hush Money Payments Then-President Donald Trump on the South Lawn of the White House, on Dec. 12, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Al Drago/Getty Images)
Bill Allison Friday, 07 May 2021 08:12 AM
The Federal Election Commission has closed its inquiry into possible campaign violations related to payments made an adult film star who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Donald Trump, meaning the former president and his campaign won't face any penalties.
Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating campaign finance laws among other charges in connection with a $130,000 payment he made in October 2016 to secure a nondisclosure agreement from Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, an actress in adult films. Clifford said she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 and was seeking to publicize her story.
Cohen, who was later reimbursed by Trump, said in his guilty plea that the payment was made to influence the outcome of the presidential election in 2016. Several organizations, including campaign finance watchdogs and Democrat groups opposed to Trump, filed complaints to the FEC, arguing that the payment, which was not disclosed by Trump's campaign, represented an illegal contribution — well above the $2,700 limit in force at the time for individuals — from Cohen. They also charged that the campaign should have reported the expenditure.
In February, Republicans Sean Cooksey and Trey Trainor voted against further investigations of Trump and his committee, citing the agency's backlog of enforcement cases and the five-year statute of limitations. Democrats Ellen Weintraub and Shana Broussard, the agency's chairwoman, voted to continue. Two of the six commissioners, a Republican and an independent, did not vote.
A majority of the six-member commission, no three of whom can come from the same party, is required for the agency to start an investigation or impose a penalty.
“There is ample evidence in the record to support the finding that Trump and the committee knew of, and nonetheless accepted, the illegal contributions at issue here,” Broussard and Weintraub wrote in an agency filing on Thursday.
The FEC's general counsel, who conducted a preliminary review of the matter, recommended an inquiry “to determine the extent to which Trump coordinated with, or otherwise directed, Cohen to make the Clifford payment to help his presidential campaign,” an agency filing shows.
”Continued pursuit of the matter required at least four votes,” said Paul S. Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation at Common Cause, which filed one of the complaints against Trump and his campaign. “Republican Commissioners Cooksey and Trainor overrode the career attorneys and Democratic commissioners and killed the investigation.”