Nonsense. When has a special prosecutor investigating a president for one set of alleged misdeeds eventually wandered over into investigating him for sexual indiscretions too?
This Journal story is speculative on the Mueller angle but it’s worth your time, for two reasons. One: The paper’s reporting about Trump’s dalliances has been borne out by other outlets. Alllllll the way back on November 4, 2016, they first reported the existence of a $150,000 payment from the National Enquirer to Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal in a “catch and kill” ploy to bury her story about an affair with Trump. That story was finally corroborated just three weeks ago by Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker. It was the Journal that also broke the news in January about Michael Cohen’s $130,000 hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels. A month later Cohen told the New York Times that he had indeed “facilitated” a payment of $130K to her. When the Journal has news on this front, it pays to listen.
Two: Even if there’s nothing to the Mueller angle, there’s an unrelated tidbit in here of real interest.
The bank used by President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer to wire $130,000 to a former adult-film actress flagged the transaction as suspicious and reported it to the Treasury Department, according to a person familiar with the matter…
City National Bank launched an internal inquiry of its own about the payment a year after [Daniels’s lawyer] received the funds in his client-trust account there, the person said. City National sought information about the source of funds wired to Mr. Davidson’s account, the person said. The inquiry was first reported by The Washington Post.
The one-year lag between the payment by Mr. Cohen and the bank inquiry is unusual. It suggests that City National received new information that prompted it to take a fresh look at the transaction, said Charles Intriago, a former federal prosecutor and money-laundering expert.
Why would it take a year for the bank to start sniffing around the Daniels payment? The Journal theorizes that it was none other than Robert Mueller’s office that might have brought it to the bank’s attention by subpoenaing records related to Michael Cohen, whom Mueller’s office is interested in for his role in exploring a proposal for a new Trump Tower in Moscow circa 2015-16. Mueller’s investigators naturally would be interested in large payments made by Cohen via corporate shells designed to shield the payment from public notice. Which is to say, *if* it was a Mueller subpoena that dredged all of this up, it’s not so much that Mueller is investigating Stormygate as that he’s investigating possible TrumpWorld financial connections to Russia that may have led him inadvertently to stumble upon hush-money payments to former mistresses. Between Daniels and the Enquirer payoff to McDougal, it’s conceivable that Team Mueller has an entire file on payments made by Trump’s fixers to various women (unless you think they’re the only two who’ve ever received cash not to talk about their experiences with Trump). What’s he going to do with that file? It’s not as if there’s anything illegal about paying someone not to comment publicly.
…But there may be something illegal about the way this transaction happened. Here’s the interesting tidbit I mentioned:
After Mr. Trump’s victory, Mr. Cohen complained to friends that he had yet to be reimbursed for the payment to Ms. Clifford, the people said.
First Republic and the Treasury Department declined to comment. Asked for comment, Mr. Cohen offered a two-word emailed statement: “Fake News.”
Reimbursed? Reimbursed by whom? Last month, when Cohen finally admitted that money had been exchanged between him and Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels, he noted that he hadn’t been reimbursed by certain entities:
Full statement from Trump lawyer Michael Cohen on his payment to Stormy Daniels: pic.twitter.com/pG2SQkPJ9r
— Tarini Parti (@tparti) February 14, 2018
Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign reimbursed me, he claimed. That’s super, but how about the man at the center of both of those organizations? Did he reimburse Cohen personally — or was he supposed to?
Go back to this post about the campaign-finance implications of the hush-money payment to Daniels. Candidates for office are free to contribute as much money to their campaigns as they like so Trump would be free to shoot $130,000 over to Daniels even if that payment ended up being characterized as a campaign contribution (i.e. made for the purpose of influencing an election on a candidate’s behalf, which a payment to silence a mistress a month before the big vote would intuitively seem to be). But while he’s free to make the payment, he’s not free to keep it a secret. He has to report it. The Daniels payment was never reported. Which means, *if* it’s held to be a campaign contribution, either Cohen or Trump — or both? — are potentially in legal jeopardy, not from Bob Mueller but from the FEC. Cohen was barred from donating more than $2,700 to Trump’s campaign and would be waaaaay beyond that amount if the money came from him without reimbursement. And both he and Trump would be barred from making the contribution without reporting it.
The good news for POTUS is that the FEC answers to him and normally might have ways to sidestep this inquiry. But that changes if there’s a Mueller angle here. If, say, Mueller’s office has evidence that Trump promised to reimburse Cohen (or later did reimburse Cohen) and either released that information or referred it to the FEC, what could the FEC do with public scrutiny suddenly on the agency except to investigate it? Even if it ended up finding no violation, they’d be wading through a mess involving the president, his alleged former mistress, and a payoff. Awful headaches for everyone.
Exit question: There’s not going to end up being a sex angle to Russiagate, is there? Is there?