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FEC Won’t Review Trump Hush-Money Payments to Women

May 7, 2021 by Dan McCue
Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, February 27, 2019. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON – The FEC has formally dropped a case looking into whether former President Donald Trump violated election law when he directed his personal lawyer to pay women, including a pornographic film actress, to buy their silence about alleged affairs with candidate, shortly before the 2016 election.

The payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels was never reported on Trump’s campaign filings. 

Trump’s personal lawyer at the time of the payment, Michael Cohen, would later say Trump directed him to arrange payments to two women during the 2016 campaign, and apologized for his role in the hush-money effort.

“It was my own weakness and a blind loyalty to this man that led me to choose a path of darkness over light,” Cohen said in court in 2018.

Cohen was subsequently sentenced to prison for breaking campaign finance laws, tax evasion and lying to Congress. But Trump has not faced legal consequences for the payment.

On Friday, he crowed about his latest, and likely lasting victory in the case.

“The Federal Election Commission in Washington, D.C., has totally dropped the phony case against me concerning payments to women relative to the 2016 Presidential Election,” Trump said in an email sent to reporters and supporters.

“It was a case built on lies from Michael Cohen, a corrupt and convicted lawyer, a lawyer in fact who was so corrupt he was sentenced to three years in jail for lying to Congress and many other things having nothing to do with me,” the former president continued.

“I thank the Commission for their decision, ending this chapter of fake news. Between two sleazebag lawyers, Michael Avenatti and Michael Cohen, we were all able to witness law and justice in our country at its lowest!” he said.

Last December, the commission issued an internal report from its Office of General Counsel, which said it had found reason to believe the Trump campaign “knowingly and willfully” committed violations of campaign finance law.

But when the commission met in February, it deadlocked on the matter in a vote carried out behind closed doors.

Two Democratic commissioners voted to move forward with an investigation, while two Republican commissioners voted to dismiss the case. Another Republican commissioner recused himself, and another was absent.

After the outcome of that vote was announced on Thursday, the Democrats on the FEC panel, Shana Broussard and Ellen Weintraub expressed anger over the end of the case.

“To conclude that a payment, made 13 days before Election Day to hush up a suddenly newsworthy 10-year-old story, was not campaign-related, without so much as conducting an investigation, defies reality,” they wrote in a letter.

Meanwhile the two Republicans who voted against an investigation, Trey Trainor and Sean Cooksey, continued to maintain that such an inquiry was not the best use of agency resources.

In their view, “the public record is complete” when it comes to the hush-money payments and the individual who actually handed over the payments — Cohen — has already been punished.

Cohen admitted in court that he arranged the $130,000 payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, “for the principal purpose of influencing the election.”

He also confessed he arranged for a $150,000 payment on Trump’s behalf by American Media Inc. to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy playmate, earlier in 2016.

Both payments were far in excess of the legal limit for individual contributions for president, which was then $2,700.

In a statement released Friday, Cohen said the hush money payments were done “at the direction of and for the benefit of Donald J. Trump.”

“Like me, Trump should have been found guilty. How the FEC committee could rule any other way is confounding,” he said.

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