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Not Guilty? Former FEC Commissioner Says Cohen and Trump Didn't Violate Campaign Finance Law

12-14-2018
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This week, President Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations and other crimes. 

The president says he "never directed" Cohen "to do anything wrong." Trump said Thursday the hush money payments Cohen made to two Trump mistresses were "not a campaign finance violation."

"What about Congress where they have a slush fund and millions and millions of dollars is paid out each year?" Trump asked. "They have a slush fund. Millions, they don't talk about campaign finance, anything. Have you ever heard of campaign finance laws? Have they listed that on their campaign finance sheets? No."

Hans von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission, agrees with the president. He told CBN News what the campaign law means and why he believes Trump did not violate it. 

"It's called the Federal Election Campaign Act and it governs the raising of money and the spending of money for all federal campaigns, as anyone running for Congress or the presidency," von Spakovsky explained. 

"Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to a supposed violation of that law because of payments that were made, I guess you could call them hush money payments, to two women who were claiming that they had had affairs with the President. The problem with his guilty plea is that those payments aren't covered by the law. The only way these kind of expenses are covered under the law is if they are campaign related expenses and these are not campaign related expenses, this is a potential personal liability of the President and you actually can't use campaign funds – money that you've raised from campaign contributors, to pay for something like that."

However, Michael Cohen said the payments were made to influence the election. According to von Spakovsky, Cohen is missing a key point. 

"There's another provision of the law that says that an expenditure and expense is not campaign related if it's an expense that would exist whether or not you're running for office, and that's why this is not a campaign expense," he said. 

Von Spakovsky also challenged those who believe President Trump's actions constitute a civil offense. He said in order for there to be a criminal violation of campaign finance law, one must prove there was a "knowing and willful" violation. 

Von Spakovsky believes that's a tough case to prove.

The former FEC commissioner also compared this case to that of former Dermocratic candidate John Edwards. He said it shows how week the case against Cohen is. 

"If you'll recall in that case it was actually contributors to Edwards who put up a million dollars to his mistress who actually had his child, and she was actually working for the campaign. Much better facts for the government, and yet a jury didn't buy that these were campaign related expenses. Not only that but the Federal Election Commission, when it audited the Edwards campaign, it also did not consider that these payments were campaign related. So, the government was unsuccessful in its prosecution in the one time it tried to use this theory in a criminal prosecution," he said. 
 

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