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Former U.S. Attorney Explains Why Trump Didn’t Violate Campaign Finance Laws

Joseph diGenova said Thursday, 'The president, a non-lawyer, sought advice' from counsel

Former U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova argued on Thursday that President Donald Trump couldn’t have violated campaign finance laws because he wasn’t informed by his former lawyer Michael Cohen (shown above left).

“Here is where we are legally, and this is what matters,” diGenova told host Laura Ingraham on “The Laura Ingraham Show.”

“In order to violate the federal campaign finance laws, you have to do a knowing and willful violation. That means you have to know that you are violating a specific section of the statute.”

Cohen was sentenced on Wednesday to three years in prison for tax evasion, lying to lawmakers and payments that allegedly violated campaign finance law.

U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III said in his ruling that Cohen  deserved a harsh punishment despite working with an investigation against the president as part of a plea deal.

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

“Cohen has pleaded guilty to a crime,” diGenova told Ingraham and her radio audience. “But what they did not say in any of the pleadings or in open court is that when the president, a non-lawyer, sought the advice of counsel from his lawyer Michael Cohen about how to handle it, Mr. Cohen recommended these payments. Mr. Cohen never told the president that if he made those payments, that would be illegal and a violation of federal campaign finance laws.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller has been leading an investigation into whether or not the president or his associates colluded with Russian interests to sway the presidential election of 2016.

Cohen became a person of interest early on in the investigation, given his close connection to the president as his former lawyer.

Cohen drew particular attention for the payments he made in response to an alleged affair the president had (Trump has denied this). Cohen made a payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels as part of a hush money agreement after she claimed to have had an affair with the president. The claim that the payment was a campaign finance violation was because the payment occurred so close to the election season.

“This is why people have lawyers,” diGenova said. “Trump is not a lawyer. He is a business person. He relied on his lawyers. He relies on his lawyers for leases, for building purchases, for finance agreements and how to deal with women who are seeking to extort money from him because of alleged affairs.”

The special counsel team suggested that 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.

Cohen worked with federal investigators since turning himself in on August 21.

Related: Special Counsel Recommends ‘Substantial’ but Fair Sentence for Cohen

“He [Trump] did exactly what his lawyer told him to do,” diGenova continued on Thursday. “His lawyer, his counsel, did not tell him, according to all the information that is publicly available. Mr. Cohen never told [Trump] that if he made those payments, it would be a crime. That would be the only way the president would have been on notice he’s violating the law.”

Cohen also drew attention for his involvement in a project to build a Trump hotel in Moscow.

He had previously claimed the talks about the Moscow project had ended prior to the election season ramping up in 2016. He admitted in federal court to lying about how much he discussed the proposed Moscow project with the president on November 29.

Cohen accepted additional charges as part of the plea deal he reached with the special counsel.

Trump responded to the plea deal by calling his former lawyer “weak” and saying he was just looking for reduced time.

The president also tweeted about the Cohen sentencing early on Thursday:

And check out this video:

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