The Federal Election Commission on Thursday announced its decision to drop an inquiry into whether Donald Trump violated campaign finance laws when his personal lawyer paid a porn actress $130,000 days before the 2016 election.
The decision has effectively allowed Trump to squirm away from any potential legal consequences arising from the inquiry over his alleged role in the hush-money scandal.
Trump’s now former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, meanwhile, was sentenced to prison in 2018 for breaking campaign finance laws, tax evasion and lying to Congress.
Cohen said at the time that he had made the hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels at Trump’s behest to keep her quiet about a former affair with Trump as Election Day loomed.
“The hush money payment was done at the direction of and for the benefit of Donald J. Trump,” Cohen said in a statement to The New York Times. “Like me, Trump should have been found guilty. How the FEC committee could rule any other way is confounding.”
The FEC’s decision to drop the case, comes after its Office of General Counsel issued an internal report in December 2020, suggesting it had found “reason to believe” that the Trump campaign had “knowingly and willfully” violated campaign finance law.
In February, the Supreme Court had separately rejected an appeal from Daniels to revive a defamation lawsuit she filed against the former president.
During a closed-door meeting in February, the bipartisan FEC commission voted largely across party lines, with two Republican commissioners voting to dismiss the case while two Democratic commissioners voted to push it forward. There was one absence and one Republican recusal. That vote was announced in Thursday’s decision.
Two of the FEC’s Democratic commissioners, including its chair, Shana Broussard, and Ellen Weintraub, pushed back on the move to drop the case in spite of recommendations for further investigation.
“To conclude that a payment, made 13 days before Election Day to hush up a suddenly newsworthy 10-year-old story, was not campaign-related, without so much as conducting an investigation, defies reality,” they said in a statement.
The Republican commissioners who voted not to proceed with an investigation, Trey Trainor and Sean Cooksey, said that pursuing the case was “not the best use of agency resources,” arguing that Cohen had been punished.
“The Commission regularly dismisses matters where other government agencies have already adequately enforced and vindicated the Commission’s interests,” they said in a statement on Thursday.