FEC Drops Investigation Into Stormy Daniels Hush Money Payments

The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) has closed its investigation into whether former President Donald Trump broke campaign finance rules when his then-attorney Michael Cohen paid $130,000 in alleged “hush money” to adult film actress Stormy Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election.

The bipartisan election commission, which is evenly split between three Republicans and three Democratic-aligned commissioners, dropped the inquiry and “closed the file” in the case known as Matter Under Review (MUR) #7313, according to the case docket summary and other documents.

The FEC voted on the inquiry in a closed-door meeting in February, according to the New York Times while the commission’s case file docket was updated with related information more recently.

Assistant General Counsel Lynn Tran, in a March 31 letter to the Trump Organization (pdf), wrote that the FEC had “considered the allegations raised in the complaints and there were an insufficient number of votes to find reason to believe Trump Organization LLC may have violated the Act and Commission regulations as alleged.” Tran added that documents in the case would be placed on the public record within 30 days.

The FEC was probing whether the funds Cohen admitted to paying Daniels “were paid for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential general election,” according to a Jan 2018 complaint in the case (pdf).

Trump Lawyer Investigation
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, leaves federal court after his sentencing in New York on Dec. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File)

Two of the FEC’s Republican commissioners voted to discontinue the probe, while two Democrat-aligned members voted to proceed, with one Republican recusing herself and a Democrat not present to weigh in on the matter, according to The New York Times and The Washington Post. A majority vote was required to advance the inquiry, so it was dropped.

Two of the Democrat-aligned commissioners released a statement on May 6 (pdf) criticizing their Republican colleagues’ decision to drop the case. They argued that Cohen’s sworn testimony that the payment was made for the principal purpose of influencing the election “more than satisfies” the FEC’s “reason to believe” standard to authorize a probe.

Cohen was convicted in 2018 of lying to Congress, tax evasion, and other charges, and served three years in prison.

The Republican commissioners released their own statement (pdf) on April 26, arguing the dismissal was a matter of “prosecutorial discretion” and that the matter was “statute-of-limitations imperiled” due to a “prolonged lack of a quorum” on the FEC, and that pursuing the probe was “not the best use of agency resources.”

With Cohen’s punishment, the “public record is complete,” the Republican commissioners added.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating campaign finance law by making the payment to Daniels as well as another payment of $150,000 to model Karen McDougal shortly before the election.

Both women claim to have had sexual encounters with Trump more than a decade ago and that the money was intended to buy their silence. Trump has denied the encounters and has repeatedly told reporters he knew nothing about a payment to Daniels.

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Tom Ozimek
Author: Tom Ozimek

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