This Campaign Finance Expert Thinks Stormy Daniels' "Hush" Deal Could've Been Illegal

On Sunday, adult film actress Stephanie Clifford's interview with 60 Minutes didn't just focus on her alleged affair with Trump. It also got into the nitty-gritty details surrounding the famous $130,000 nondisclosure agreement supposedly meant to keep her silent. In addition to featuring Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels, Trevor Potter, a former Federal Election Commission (FEC) chairman, was also interviewed during the much-anticipated 60 Minutes episode. And he has reason to believe Daniels' NDA could cause serious legal issues for the president.

While Trump and his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, have denied that an alleged affair occurred, Cohen has admitted that he paid Daniels $130,000 in 2016, using his own money. The lawyer also reported that he was never reimbursed by the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization for the expense. However, Cohen has refused to say why he gave Daniels money.

According to Potter, who worked for the George H.W. Bush administration now runs Campaign Legal Center, this exchange of funds could spell major trouble for Trump and his team. As Potter put it:

The payment of the money just creates an enormous legal mess for I think Trump, for Cohen and anyone else who was involved in this in the campaign. ... It's a $130,000 in-kind contribution by Cohen to the Trump campaign, which is about $126,500 above what he's allowed to give. And if he does this on behalf of his client, the candidate, that is a coordinated, illegal, in-kind contribution by Cohen for the purpose of influencing the election, of benefiting the candidate by keeping this secret.

Cooper then questioned Potter about what the legal implications would be if, hypothetically, the president had paid Cohen back the $130,000. Cooper asked, "If the president paid Michael Cohen back, is that an in-kind campaign contribution that the president should've then reported?" In response, Potter noted:

It is. If he was then reimbursed by the president, that doesn't remove the fact that the initial payment violated Cohen's contribution limits. I guess it mitigates it if he's paid back by the candidate because the candidate could have paid for it without limit.

Cooper then also clarified what it would mean if the president never paid Cohen back, as Cohen alleges. According to Potter, Cohen not being reimbursed by Trump likely has more serious consequences in terms of campaign finance law — if Trump never reimbursed Cohen, "[Cohen] is still out on the line, having made an illegal in-kind contribution to the campaign."

Cohen did not respond to 60 Minutes' requests for interviews. However, as the show reported, he has repeatedly said that he was not reimbursed for the payment and that he made the payment as a personal favor. As the show reported, Cohen told Vanity Fair last week:

What I did defensively for my personal client, and my friend, is what attorneys do for their high-profile clients. I would have done it in 2006. I would have done it in 2011. I truly care about him and the family — more than just as an employee and an attorney.

Later on in the show, Cooper asked Potter if there is any historical precedent for prosecuting someone who has allegedly not disclosed a campaign finance contribution. In response, Potter affirmed that there is, and cited the example of former presidential candidate John Edwards, who was prosecuted for payments that his campaign finance chairman made prior to the 2008 election to a woman who'd given birth to Edwards' child. Edwards was prosecuted, but never convicted in the case.

However, according to Potter, a potential case against Cohen or Trump could carry more weight than the Edwards case. "I think the Edwards case is not as strong as the facts we have so far in the Trump case," Potter stated.

[It's] the timing of it. It wasn't the year before the election. It's right in the middle of the run-up to Election Day. ... Trump's conduct with women was a prime campaign issue. In fact, it was what everyone was focused on.

60 Minutes revealed that the White House's press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, did not respond to its requests for comment from the president. But one has to wonder if, in the coming days, Trump or Cohen will comment further on the issue — and whether they will directly respond to the assessments made by the former FEC chairman.

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