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Former FEC Member Explains Why Trump Didn’t Violate Campaign Finance Laws

Hans Von Spakovsky called out 'the most basic mistake' attorney Michael Cohen and the media are making

President Donald Trump couldn’t have broken campaign finance laws by allowing a hush-money payment because it was not campaign-related, said a former member of the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

“The most basic mistake Cohen is making and the media is making, and frankly the U.S. attorney in New York is making, is that the payment of hush money is not a campaign-related expense,” former FEC member Hans Von Spakovsky told host Laura Ingraham on “The Laura Ingraham Show” on Friday morning.

“And if it’s not a campaign-related expense, then none of the rules of regulations under the campaign finance law applies to this.”

Trump has been at the center of a special counsel investigation over allegations he broke the law to influence the presidential election of 2016.

His former lawyer Michael Cohen has cooperated with the investigation as part of a plea deal after turning himself in on August 21. He claims the president authorized him to make illegal hush-money payments.

Spakovsky was a member on the commission for a couple of years after getting a recess appointment by President George W. Bush in 2006.

Democrats vehemently opposed his later nomination and claimed he was politically biased before he withdrew in 2008.

He has since worked as the manager for the Heritage Foundation’s Election Law Reform Initiative.

Related: Cohen Attacks Trump — But Insists He’s Now Being Truthful

Special counsel Robert Mueller has been leading the investigation into the president and his associates. Cohen was facing his own legal troubles when he agreed to cooperate with investigators in the hope of getting a lighter punishment.

He was sentenced to three years in prison this week for tax evasion, lying to lawmakers and the hush-money payments.

“For those who say it was a campaign-related expense because it was intended to influence the election, no, there is a limit in the law,” Spakovsky said. “The law says it is not a campaign-related expense if it is a liability of expense that would exist even if the person wasn’t running for office. And clearly, that is the case here.”

Cohen paid porn actress Stormy Daniels as part of the apparent hush-money agreement around the election season.

She claimed to have had an affair with the president, which he vehemently denied. Cohen argued this week that he broke the law out of blind loyalty for the president, who directed him to make the payments. Trump was also accused of using his former lawyer to buy unfavorable stories from the National Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc.

“The U.S. attorney is going beyond what the law requires,” Spakovsky said. “If this wasn’t a campaign-related expense, then none of the rules and regulation apply. There was no problem whatsoever with the National Inquirer making this payment. And the other thing is, even if this was a campaign-related expense and therefore, potentially, the rules and regulations apply, there is a giant media exemption.”

Related: Trump Ex-Lawyer Michael Cohen Sentenced to Three Years in Prison

Trump has repeatedly said in response to the plea deal that he never directed Cohen to break the law. He claimed that the allegations against him are merely an attempt to embarrass him.

The president also argued that Cohen was and is just trying to protect himself and family from legal pressures.

“I never directed him to do anything wrong,” Trump told Fox News host Harris Faulkner on Thursday. “Whatever he did, he did on his own. He’s a lawyer. A lawyer who represents a client is supposed to do the right thing. That’s why you pay them a lot of money. He is a lawyer. He represents a client. I never directed him to do any incorrect or wrong. And he understands that.”

The special counsel team suggested Cohen receive a tough but fair sentence in a court filing on December 7. The filing argued that the punishment should reflect his lies but also his efforts to remediate his misconduct.

U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III said in his ruling that he deserved a harsh punishment before giving him three years.

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Connor D. Wolf covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at [email protected].