New evidence the Stormy Daniels payment may have violated election law

NBC News on Friday reported that Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime ally and attorney, had used a Trump Organization email address as he worked to secure the payment to Daniels. redirects to The domain is registered to the Trump Organization. It is, in other words, an email address that belongs to the Trump Organization — an asset of the company.

.. That means that federal election law was almost certainly violated.

.. Daniels’s lawsuit asserts Trump learned she was talking to media outlets shortly after a number of women had come forward to rebut Trump’s denial during the Oct. 10, 2016, presidential debate that he had groped women as he had implied in the famous “Access Hollywood” tape. Hearing that she might tell her story, too, Trump “sought to silence” her, “thus helping to ensure he won the Presidential Election.”

.. The email from the bank to Cohen does not prove that company funds were used to pay Daniels, which Noble told us last month would itself be illegal. Just using that email address is its own problem.

.. even if what happened with Daniels was the sort of thing that was very common for Cohen as part of his duties, the Daniels scenario could still be a contribution if Cohen understood it would aid Trump’s electoral effort.

.. he used his Trump Organization email for any number things.

“I sent emails from the Trump Org email address to my family, friends as well as Trump business emails,” he told the network. “I basically used it for everything. I am certain most people can relate.

.. Cohen told the network that the funds used to pay Daniels “were taken from my home equity line.” The money, that is, came directly from Cohen. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that Cohen told others that he had not been repaid for his investment immediately — meaning that he had, in effect, made a loan to the campaign of some duration by covering this cost.

.. The only way in which Cohen could have paid the $130,000 without having violated campaign finance laws is if he were totally independent of the campaign and, as a private individual, decided to give Daniels the money to buy her silence.

.. To assume that no campaign finance laws were broken means assuming either that:

  1. The payment had nothing to do with the campaign, or
  2. Cohen had nothing to do with the campaign.

Neither seems at all likely.

Stormy Daniels Lawsuit Opens Door to Further Trouble for Trump

As any longtime legal hand in the capital remembers well, it was a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by an Arkansas state employee, Paula Jones, against Bill Clinton that led to his impeachment for lying about his affair with Monica S. Lewinsky.

.. The case of the adult film actress, Stephanie Clifford, who uses the stage-name Stormy Daniels, may not get past even the first considerable obstacles. But if her court case proceeds, Mr. Trump and his longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, may have to testify in depositions

.. Ms. Clifford’s agreement with Mr. Cohen stipulated that they would resolve disputes in the confidential arbitration proceedings. Assuming she does not blink — and her lawyer has said she won’t — it will fall to a judge in Los Angeles, where the suit was filed, to decide whether to compel Ms. Clifford to return to arbitration or allow the case to go forward in court

.. “A lawsuit opens the door, and judges almost always allow for a plaintiff to have a fishing expedition,” said Robert S. Bennett, the Washington lawyer who represented Mr. Clinton in the Paula Jones case. The questions could include, “Have you paid other people money?” he said.

.. perhaps intending to broaden it later to include claims that Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen coerced her into silence. “If that happened,” he said, “they certainly could seek to depose Trump.”

And in that case, he said, “I can certainly imagine how it might get broader.

And if it did, the wide array of Trump’s sexual interactions could be addressed

..  Ms. Clifford’s signature on the contract, and acceptance of the money, could count as a clear sign of agreement.

.. But other legal experts were struck by the sweeping nature of the nondisclosure agreement Ms. Clifford signed, and expressed skepticism that it would hold up in court. Beyond the circumstances of the alleged sexual relationship, the agreement barred her from doing anything, even indirectly, to “publicly disparage” Mr. Trump.

.. Ms. Clifford has claimed that she met Mr. Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in 2006 and began a relationship that included sex and promises from Mr. Trump to get her on his NBC show “The Apprentice” and to give her a condominium.
.. Mr. Avenatti argues that because Mr. Trump did not sign it himself, the agreement is invalid — a point Mr. Super, the Georgetown professor, basically agreed with and Mr. Noble said might have merit.
.. The extent to which Mr. Cohen was acting on his own in striking the agreement with Ms. Clifford and paying her is crucial
.. Important factors in the case would include just how closely Mr. Cohen coordinated the payment to Ms. Clifford with Mr. Trump and whether it was intended to help the campaign avoid negative publicity.
.. But in her suit, Ms. Clifford tries to implicate Mr. Trump in the transaction, saying the offer of money was intended to buy her silence to help “ensure he won the presidential election.”
.. It could have simply been a personal matter, he said, of Mr. Trump wishing to keep a secret from his wife.

Was the Payment to Stormy Daniels a Campaign Contribution?

Some say the payment—far beyond federal campaign limits—had to have been coordinated with Trump; others say it would have been paid even if Trump hadn’t been running for office

The former chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission takes a different view than Mr. Cohen. Ann Ravel, a Democrat who served on the elections body from 2013 to 2015 said the timing and circumstances around the payment makes it “obvious” it was campaign-related.
“The real issue here is coordination,” she said. “How did Michael Cohen know about the relationship if not from either the candidate himself or the campaign?”

.. Charlie Spies, a Republican campaign attorney not involved with Mr. Trump, said the payment to Ms. Clifford is “an expense that would exist irrespective of whether Mr. Trump was a candidate and therefore should not be treated as a campaign contribution.”
He dismissed the notion that timing matters. “There is no precedent to indicate that a personal expense becomes a campaign expense simply because it is temporally close to the election,” he said.

.. The allegations in the Common Cause complaint filed with the Justice Department resemble criminal charges once faced by John Edwards, the former senator and Democratic presidential candidate. Mr. Edwards was charged in connection with $900,000 two of his donors allegedly spent to conceal an extramarital affair with a campaign worker during his 2008 campaign.

.. A defense against campaign violations linked to the payment to Ms. Clifford could be more challenging than Mr. Edwards’, some campaign-finance experts said. Unlike in the Edwards case, Mr. Cohen arranged to pay Ms. Clifford days before the election, as Mr. Trump faced questions about his treatment of women.

.. If Mr. Cohen made the payment with his own money and wasn’t reimbursed, his motive would be central to the legal analysis

.. But if Mr. Trump ultimately paid, prosecutors would have to demonstrate his intent was to prevent Ms. Daniels from damaging his campaign.

.. No law limits the amount Mr. Trump could spend on his own campaign, but if he ultimately paid Ms. Daniels to protect his candidacy, he would have had to disclose it as a campaign expenditure

.. Mr. Cohen or Mr. Trump could argue that Ms. Clifford was paid to guard against negative publicity, avoid embarrassment or keep Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania, and children from finding out about the allegations, Mr. Hasen said.

.. “Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you harm or damage,” he said.

Why Trump Can’t Quit Steve Wynn

Wynn expressed optimism about Cruz’s chances within the crowded GOP field. Wynn then lambasted Trump, the frontrunner at the time, castigating the real-estate mogul’s record as a “businessman” and “casino owner.” Wynn snickered about how Trump’s Vegas property stood pitifully far from the Strip, the stretch of land coveted by any hopeful casino or hotel owner in the city. “He was just clowning on him,”

.. So when, on the eve of Trump’s decisive victory in the Nevada caucus two months later, the candidate touted his support from none other than Steve Wynn, Cruz’s camp was stunned. Wynn, standing alongside fellow casino mogul Phil Ruffin, beamed from the crowd.

..  In the space of a year, Wynn would become a member of the president’s cadre of informal advisers, his hand-selected finance chair of the RNC, and as such, an indispensable fundraiser for the party.

.. Multiple Republican sources say Wynn’s retreat from the political scene will have a lasting and negative impact on the GOP’s fundraising prowess. “No small number of GOP lawmakers have stayed at Wynn Resorts in the last two years and relied on him for donations,” the Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said. “This could be devastating.”

.. not one seemed to think that the president would simply sever ties with Wynn.

.. The initial bout of friction between Trump and Wynn dates back to the 1990s, when the two engaged in a vicious legal battle over Wynn’s efforts to expand to Atlantic City that included allegations of fraud, money laundering, perjury, and even claims that an investigator working on behalf of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc. had become a mole for Wynn’s Mirage Resorts,

.. “They hate each other’s guts. It’s like poison,”

.. The president still nurses the wound of those years and the insults Wynn lobbed at him

.. “It was always just billionaire ego bullshit,” said one Trump campaign official who witnessed their exchanges. “Like, ‘Haha, my building is a couple feet taller than your building.’ That kind of thing.”

.. Yet far from keeping Wynn at a distance, Trump seemed insistent on tightening their relationship. “They became pretty close,”

.. the president took great pleasure in how their roles had reversed.

.. During the transition, Wynn bordered on “sycophantic” in his outreach ..  particularly on the topic of China.

.. Wynn, who runs a massive casino operation in Macau, often urged Trump to reconsider his pledge to be “tough on China.”

.. Wynn then volunteered to arrange entertainment for Trump’s inauguration

.. Not even Wynn’s extensive rolodex of celebrities could help him nab the artists he wanted most, including Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Elton John. “As soon as he’d get close to bringing one on, word would leak out, and they’d immediately deny,” the source said. “Steve got very frustrated. He was clearly upset.”

.. it raised a record-breaking $107 million in the first three quarters of 2017

.. “He’s been a bigger success as a fundraiser than people thought he would be,

.. Wynn spoke with no notes, “as he’s mostly blind.” (Wynn suffers from a degenerative eye disease.)

.. The Wall Street Journal reported that Wynn hand-delivered a letter from the Chinese government urging the return of Miles Kwok, the Chinese businessman who fled the country, seeking asylum in the U.S.

.. But one source directly familiar with the matter remembered notably how Wynn was able “to work Trump up into a tizzy” over the situation, playing into the president’s well-known desire “to get the bad guys out” of the country.

.. “The president will want to keep Steve around him. He likes him—he’s gonna be last to throw a rock at a buddy of his.” Which means that Wynn’s access to Trump could very well continue unfettered—in the shadows, off the schedule, as it largely has been until now.