Payment To Stormy Daniels May Have Broken Campaign Finance Law
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Tonight, Stormy Daniels the adult film actress gets her most high-profile stage, an interview on "60 Minutes." Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, alleges she had an affair with President Trump in 2006 and 2007. President Trump denies that. It's an interview Daniels is giving despite a nondisclosure agreement she signed in 2016, 11 days before the election. She's now challenging that agreement in court. But at the time, in return for signing, Daniels got $130,000. That money came from the funds of Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer. And it's that money that's raised the possibility of election laws being broken. Joining me now to talk about this is Larry Noble. He's general counsel for the watchdog group the Campaign Legal Center. Welcome to the program.
LARRY NOBLE: Thank you for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what election laws are we talking about being potentially broken?
NOBLE: We're talking about campaign finance laws and the contribution limits and disclosure provisions. If Michael Cohen paid Stormy Daniels, and it was done for the purpose of stopping her to talk about this during the election, then it was an excessive contribution by Michael Cohen. And the campaign should have reported it as a contribution by Cohen and as an expenditure by the campaign. The question here is, was this related to the election? And I think there's strong evidence it was.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let me understand this. What you're saying is that Michael Cohen, as a private citizen, basically contributed this money to aid Donald Trump, and so it could be viewed as a campaign contribution. And because it was a huge amount of money and the campaign did not disclose it, that could have violated some laws?
NOBLE: Right. His limit would have been $2,700. Now, a couple of things have had to have happened. One is the campaign either had to know about it or he had to be an agent of the campaign. Frankly, it's hard to believe that Donald Trump did not know about this, so the campaign did not know about this. And the second thing to keep in mind is we talk about Michael Cohen paying for it. We actually don't know the source of the money. What they have said is that the campaign did not pay for it. And the Trump Organization did not pay for it. And Michael Cohen facilitated the payment - and that he took the money from his home equity loan. One suspects - and there's been some evidence of this - that he expected to get repaid by somebody. Whether he did or not, we don't know.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But if he's saying that it's his personal funds, does that make a difference?
NOBLE: Well, it makes a difference in the sense that, if it was his personal funds, it was an individual campaign contribution. If it came from another company or if it did come from the Trump Organization, it was a prohibited contribution. And we don't know what the source could have been. The source could have been another company, could have been another individual. We just don't know. And one of the purposes of the campaign finance laws to allow us to know where the campaigns are getting financed.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's talk a little bit about this idea of it being 11 days before the election. Why is that so important?
NOBLE: It suggests that the election was on their mind. Now, she allegedly had the affair about 10 years before. There was a potential article that was going to come out in 2011. But they did not enter the agreement until right before the election. And that is evidence that the purpose of this was for the purpose of influencing the election.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And if that is the case, why is that problematic?
NOBLE: If it's for the purpose of influencing the election, the federal campaign finance laws come into play. So that's where you have the violation of the contribution limits by whoever paid for this - and that you also have the campaign's failure to report this. Everything a campaign does for the election is supposed to be reported and is subject to limits. And that includes even things like this, even though they are things that may be salacious, that people don't want to know about. They are supposed to be reported if they're for the purpose of the campaign.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. I mean, what people have said who are supporters of Donald Trump is that if he carried on this affair, he did it when he was a private citizen. And, really, none of this is relevant. This seems to be implying that it could be something different.
NOBLE: Right. What he did as a private citizen is not relevant to the campaign finance laws. What he did as a candidate and what the campaign did in terms of paying somebody not to talk about what he did may be relevant to the campaign finance laws. And that's the question here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How will we know?
NOBLE: If complaints have been filed with the Federal Election Commission - and while it's not the most aggressive agency - there is a chance it will investigate it. The Department of Justice can investigate this. It is possible - a remote possibility - that it could come up in the Mueller investigation because he's going be looking at the way the campaign was financed. So there is, I think, more information to come out about it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Larry Noble is general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center. Thank you so much.
NOBLE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.