Politics

Porn Star Payment Likely Not Illegal, Says Former FEC Chairman

Brad Smith said there are 'many things that can influence' election outcome without breaking federal campaign laws

It “really doesn’t matter” if President Donald Trump or his lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 since there’s a “strong argument” that it wasn’t a campaign expenditure, according to former Federal Election Commission Chairman Bradley Smith.

“I think that there’s a very strong argument that this is not a campaign contribution and not a campaign expenditure,” Smith told Fox News host Laura Ingraham Thursday night on “The Ingraham Angle.”

“And it really doesn’t matter whether Cohen paid or Trump paid it or Trump reimbursed Cohen. If it’s not a campaign expenditure, it’s not going to be covered by campaign finance laws,” said Smith (pictured above on far right).

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Smith’s comments followed a bombshell revelation Wednesday by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in an interview on Fox News’ “Hannity.” Giuliani disclosed that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the money he paid Daniels in October 2016, in return for her agreement to keep quiet about an alleged affair more than 10 years before. Trump previously said he knew nothing of the payment, which occurred shortly before the 2016 presidential election.

Giuliani clarified Thursday on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” that Trump “didn’t know the details” about the payment or his reimbursement until “a couple of weeks ago.” He maintained that Trump’s reimbursement was a “perfectly legal” one that wasn’t made with campaign funds and didn’t violate any laws.

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Smith appeared to reinforce Giuliani’s analysis, telling Ingraham that “the basic law in this is that many things that can influence a campaign are not campaign expenditures. And the rule on this is not that something related to the campaign is a campaign expenditure. It’s not that something primarily related to the campaign is a campaign expenditure.”

Smith noted that the FEC “rejected both those options” because a campaign finance law violation would have to be based upon an “obligation that would not exist but for the campaign.”

“I think that there’s a strong argument, at least from what we know publicly, that a man like Trump could say,’ Look, we would have made these payments. Celebrities have to make these kinds of payments all the time,'” Smith said.

Trump and Cohen could have had many reasons to pay off Daniels that were unrelated to the presidential campaign, Smith noted, such as “protecting his family, protecting his commercial viability, just not wanting the distraction.”

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Solomon Wisenberg, former deputy special counsel for Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater-Lewinsky investigation of President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s, noted that if a campaign finance violation took place, “this is not the crime of the century. It’s relatively small potatoes.”

Wisenberg (pictured above, second from right) added that he “always thought the test was here if it was for the purpose of influencing the campaign. So I think it’s always going to be a question when you do something 11 days before the [election].

“It’s really ultimately a fact question, and by no means would it be easy to prove. But again, in the grand scheme of things, it’s relatively minor. I can’t imagine any president being impeached, much less prosecuted, for a felony for that.”

When Ingraham pointed out that many media outlets focused on the detail revealed in March that the email Cohen used to facilitate the payment deal was a trump.org email address, Smith dismissed the importance.

Related: Trump Unaware of Stormy Payment Details, Rudy Insists

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (pictured above, far left) also downplayed the Left’s intense focus on impeaching Trump one way or another, whether through the Russian collusion probe or through the Daniels payment controversy.

“Well, the whole velocity and direction of the press is to blame Donald Trump for everything. That’s been a constant, Laura,” Fleischer said. “The threshold is so low for anti-Trump stories. And it’s hurting journalism.”

“It’s one of the reasons America is splitting into two, frankly, where you have people who don’t trust the press, don’t believe the press, and other people who just hate Donald Trump,” Fleischer said, noting that NBC News got a significant story wrong Thursday.

NBC issued a correction Thursday after it erroneously reported that FBI officials wiretapped Cohen’s phones.

“But three senior U.S. officials now dispute that, saying that the monitoring of Cohen’s phones was limited to a log of calls, known as a pen register, not a wiretap where investigators can actually listen to calls,” NBC noted in its correction. “NBC News has changed the headline and revised parts of the original article.”

Fleischer said that “it’s not healthy for the country to have the press get it wrong like this.”

PoliZette writer Kathryn Blackhurst can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter.

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