A new complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission Tuesday uses recent comments by President Trump, his 2020 campaign, and attorneys for his longtime fixer Michael Cohen to accuse the three parties of violating federal election law in their handling of the Stormy Daniels affair.
The complaint was brought by the American Democracy Legal Fund (ADLF), a Washington, D.C.-based progressive advocacy group.
According to the complaint, at which TPM was given an exclusive first look, the Trump team is “trying to have it both ways” by claiming that a hush money payment made by Cohen to Daniels, an adult film star who claims she had an affair with Trump, had nothing to do with the 2016 presidential campaign, while also acknowledging that Cohen represented Trump in what the President recently referred to as the “crazy Stormy Daniels deal.”
Campaign funds can only be spent on campaign-related expenses, which can include staffer’s legal bills that cover matters that directly arise from a campaign or a candidate’s tenure in office.
The Trump 2020 campaign acknowledged this week that they paid a total of $228,000 to McDermott Will & Emery, the firm representing Cohen, for “legal consulting” but insisted the payments “were related strictly to the Russia investigations.” The same McDermott attorney, Stephen Ryan, is also representing Cohen in the various litigation brought against him by Daniels, as well as a federal criminal investigation into Cohen’s financial dealings in the Southern District of New York.
Brad Woodhouse, ADLF treasurer, told TPM that claims the McDermott payments on Cohen’s behalf were only applied to their work on the Russia investigations don’t “pass the laugh test.”
As Woodhouse noted, Special Counsel Robert Mueller referred the probe into Cohen’s financial affairs to prosecutors in New York, signaling that they don’t have “anything to do with the Russia probe.”
The Trump re-election campaign has not yet filed its quarterly FEC report covering the period after the Daniels suits and SDNY investigation surfaced. So the amount they’ve paid to McDermott in recent months is not yet known.
Then there is the matter of the $130,000 October 2016 hush money payment Cohen made to Daniels, which is already the subject of another FEC complaint filed by the good government group Common Cause. Though Cohen initially claimed he paid out the funds in his own capacity, he sent emails related to them from a Trump Organization email address while serving as a surrogate for the campaign on TV. Campaign finance experts agree it was likely a violation of campaign finance law for Cohen to make the payment to buy Daniels’ silence while using Trump Organization resources. If Cohen did it on his own volition, as he claimed, the Trump campaign would have had to claim the money as an in-kind donation, which it did not.
Trump claimed in a recent Fox & Friends interview that the Daniels affair was one of the only matters in which Cohen represented him, after previously saying he knew nothing about the payment or the source of the funds.
Read the ADLF’s full complaint below.