Federal prosecutors with the Southern District of New York are wrapping up their investigation into whether Trump organization executives broke campaign finance laws and are reportedly unlikely to file any charges.
“For months, federal prosecutors in New York have examined whether company officials broke the law, including in their effort to reimburse Michael Cohen for hush-money payments he made to women alleging affairs with his former boss, President Donald Trump,” CNN reported. “In recent weeks, however, their investigation has quieted, the people familiar with the inquiry said, and prosecutors now don’t appear poised to charge any Trump Organization executives in the probe that stemmed from the case against Cohen.”
The report notes that there are no indications that the case has been officially closed and former officials warned that new information could always reignite the case.
The investigation stemmed from the case involving President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who pled “guilty to eight counts, including two counts of campaign-finance violations for orchestrating or making payments during the 2016 election to two women — adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal — who alleged affairs with Trump.”
The investigation centered around whether a $130,000 payment that Cohen made to Daniels — and was later reimbursed for by the Trump organization — constituted a campaign finance violation.
In August 2018, Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro noted that Trump’s two best defenses, in this case, were that he did not intend to break the law and that he did not actually break the law.
“Under the law, criminal liability for campaign finance violations attaches only if you intended to violate the law. This requires a certain level of baseline knowledge of the law,” Shapiro wrote. “But Trump could easily say that he relied on his attorney, Michael Cohen, to know the law – he’s not a lawyer.”
Shapiro then highlighted a case made by former FEC chairman Bradley Smith, who argued that Trump did not actually break the law. Writing in The Washington Post, Smith wrote:
However, regardless of what Cohen agreed to in a plea bargain, hush-money payments to mistresses are not really campaign expenditures. It is true that “contribution” and “expenditure” are defined in the Federal Election Campaign Act as anything “for the purpose of influencing any election,” and it may have been intended and hoped that paying hush money would serve that end. The problem is that almost anything a candidate does can be interpreted as intended to “influence an election,” from buying a good watch to make sure he gets to places on time, to getting a massage so that he feels fit for the campaign trail, to buying a new suit so that he looks good on a debate stage. Yet having campaign donors pay for personal luxuries — such as expensive watches, massages and Brooks Brothers suits — seems more like bribery than funding campaign speech.
“In other words, Trump’s attempts to ‘influence an election’ isn’t enough to label an action a campaign finance issue,” Shapiro concluded. “The counterargument would be FEC language regarding the applicable test: ‘if the expense would exist even in the absence of the candidacy or even if the officeholder were not in office, then the personal use ban applies.’ In other words, it’s only a personal expenditure if Trump would have paid for it regardless of the context. Trump may have a defense here: he pays off women all the time. Then he’d have to show evidence that’s true.”