Beyond flipping, Trump addresses Michael Cohen’s charges by repeatedly emphasizing that the hush money payments at the center of his guilty plea were not made with campaign funds. There’s just one problem: That doesn’t exonerate him.
In context, Trump appears to be trying to say that this proves his innocence, but the opposite is the case — you can’t just evade campaign finance rules by paying for your campaign expenses with non-campaign funds. If you could, the rules would be meaningless.
.. A separate issue, however, is that while a private citizen is free to make a secret hush money payment to his former mistress if he likes, a political campaign is required to disclose what it’s spending money on.
.. If Trump had reported a cash payment to Stormy Daniels to the Federal Election Commission, that naturally would have raised questions about why he was paying her and somewhat defeat the purpose of making hush money payments in the first place. So what Trump and Cohen seem to have decided to do is avoid using campaign money, thus allowing them to avoid disclosure rules.
.. But just like lying on the disclosure form would be illegal and refusing to do the disclosure would be illegal, paying for campaign expenses out of a non-campaign account and then declining to report that as a contribution to the campaign is also illegal. Simply put, there is no legal way to spend money on your election campaign without disclosing that fact.
“Later on I knew,” Trump said. “Later on. But you have to understand, Ainsley, what he did — and they weren’t taken out of campaign finance. That’s a big thing. That’s a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They came from me. I tweeted about it. I don’t know if you know, but I tweeted about the payments. But they didn’t come out of the campaign. In fact, my first question when I heard about it was, ‘Did they come out of the campaign?’ Because that could be a little dicey. They didn’t come out of the campaign, and that’s big. It’s not even a campaign violation.”
.. Cohen explained that he committed the campaign-finance violations “at the direction of the candidate” and with the “purpose of influencing the election.”
.. Based on Trump’s interview on Fox, he seems to think that a campaign-finance violation would have occurred if campaign funds were used to pay off Daniels and McDougal, rather than his personal cash, which was used to reimburse Cohen for the initial Daniels payment. The reverse of this is true, as The Huffington Post first reported.
.. If Trump had routed money through his campaign to pay off women, it would be legal. Campaigns can spend unlimited amounts of money. The problem would have been that if Trump did use his campaign to pay off any women, it would have defeated the purpose of making the payment, which was to ensure silence. Such an expenditure would have had to be reported to the Federal Election Commission and publicly disclosed.
.. Trump’s best defense is one that Cohen claimed was true earlier this year, and one that Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has also latched onto: That the arrangement was made not to boost Trump’s candidacy but to shield his family, particularly his wife, Melania Trump, from the embarrassing information. That argument was what helped former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina in a similar case.
But Cohen’s testimony, backed up by what the government says is evidence that corroborates it, hurts that narrative.