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GOP Commissioners Scuttle FEC Probe Into Former President Trump in Stormy Daniels Case


Stormy Daniels

The Republican-dominated Federal Election Commission quashed a probe whether former President Donald Trump and his campaign accepted and failed to report illegal campaign contributions in the form of hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels that his ex-fixer Michael Cohen acknowledged nearly three years ago.

In late 2018, Cohen’s prosecutors alleged that those payments were made “at the coordination with and the direction of Individual-1,” in a thinly veiled reference to Trump.

Cohen himself has said as much then and many other occasions since that time.

The two outvoted Democrats on the Commission—Shana M. Broussard and Ellen L. Weintraub—skewered their GOP and Trump-appointed independent colleagues on Thursday for finding nothing to investigate in the “well-grounded charges.”

“Because of Trump’s apparent role in orchestrating the transaction, we supported OGC’s recommendations to find reason to believe that he and the Committee accepted, and the Committee did not report, illegal contributions. Several of our colleagues instead voted to dismiss the allegations,” they wrote in a four-page statement on Thursday. “The Commission therefore did not have enough votes to pursue well-grounded charges that the former President of the United States knowingly and willfully accepted contributions nearly 5,000% over the legal limit to suppress a negative story mere days before Election Day.”

In a text message to Law&Crime, Cohen called the Commission’s ruling “confounding.”

“The facts are well known to all,” Cohen wrote. “The hush money payment was 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.”

After the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, Cohen entered into negotiations with Daniels’s attorney Keith Davidson to keep the pornographic actress from publishing her story about her alleged affair with Trump before the election.

“Those negotiations culminated in Cohen forming an LLC and transferring $130,000 from a home equity line of credit through the LLC to Davidson on October 27, 2016,” the Democratic commissioners’ statement recounts. “After the election, he was reportedly reimbursed in installments from either Trump’s personal account or the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust. Cohen testified before Congress that the goal of the payment structure was to keep Trump as ‘far away from it as possible.'”

Cohen has been serving a three-year sentence on campaign finance and other charges, recently outside of jail for health reasons since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FEC complaints have been longstanding since even before Cohen’s sentence, and the glacial pace of resolving them has been par for course for the commission. In March 2018, Slate accurately predicted the regulator’s history of logjam meant that those complaints may not be resolved until Trump’s post-presidency.

The Commission’s Office of the General Counsel recommended finding “reason to believe” that Cohen and the Trump Organization made, and Trump and Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. accepted and failed to report, illegal contributions.

The Democratic commissioners characterized the Trump campaign’s position that that the payments were not campaign-related as absurd.

“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.

“But putting that aside, Cohen testified under oath that he made the payment for the principal purpose of influencing the election,” they added, emphasizing that point in original. “This more than satisfies the Commission’s ‘reason to believe’ standard to authorize an investigation.”

In a separate statement late last month, Commissioners Sean Cooksey and James E. “Trey” Trainor III—both Republicans appointed by Trump—cited the federal prosecution in concluding that “pursuing these matters further was not the best use of agency resources.” Their rejection of the probe was framed as a pragmatic, rather than evidentiary, consideration.

Read the Democratic commissioners’ statement below:

(Stormy Daniels via ABC Screengrab)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."