Trump: I never directed Michael Cohen to do anything wrong

That’s the key point from today’s interview with Fox News. Michael Cohen says otherwise, but Michael Cohen is an untrustworthy dirtbag by universal acclamation. (Cohen himself all but admitted it yesterday in court.) You’re not going to prove Trump did anything wrong based on Cohen’s testimony alone.

But what if David Pecker also testifies that Trump directed Cohen to arrange unreported campaign contributions in the form of mistress payoffs? What if Pecker has already begun whispering about that to newspapers? What if he has hard evidence of wrongdoing?

And what if there’s a third person who has information and is prepared to testify about Trump directing Cohen to break campaign finance laws — someone very much on the inside, privy to many of POTUS’s private dealings? Because there might be, you know.

When Cohen released that tape of him and Trump talking about buying back the rights to McDougal’s story from AMI, Cohen mentioned how he had consulted with [Allen] Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, about how to make it happen.

[T]his week the New York Times reported that Cohen has indeed told investigators that Weisselberg was involved in both payments [to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal]

Cohen said Tuesday before he was sentenced that he “felt it was my duty to cover up [Trump’s] dirty deeds.” We know of one dirty deed in which Cohen has implicated Weisselberg, whether Weisselberg did anything wrong or not. So how many other dirty deeds are there? And how many of them might Weisselberg be able to shed light upon?

Like Pecker, Weisselberg received immunity from the feds in August in exchange for his testimony. The significance of that can’t be overstated: Weisselberg may know Trump’s business in greater detail than anyone on earth. What if he confirmed for the feds that Trump knew all about the Stormy and McDougal payoffs and ordered Cohen to carry them out?

That would shred POTUS’s remaining defense, that Cohen went rogue on all of this stuff and did it without ever telling him. Or rather, that would shred his last factual defense. Conservative lawyers are riding to the rescue today with a legal defense, namely that the payoffs to Daniels and McDougal simply can’t be characterized as campaign contributions *even if* they were made for the purpose of influencing an election. Read Brad Smith and Hans von Spakovsky on that if you haven’t yet. (Trump himself seems to reference the latter’s piece in the interview.) Per Smith, the argument boils down to this: So long as there’s some personal reason for spending money on something, it can’t properly be described as a campaign expense even if that expense also influenced an election. To be a campaign contribution, the purpose of the expense must be exclusively campaign-related. Otherwise any money Trump spent on a comb, say, to brush his hair would qualify as a campaign expenditure. After all, a candidate’s ability to look sharp and professional will also influence the outcome of his election.

It’s an interesting argument, destined to be made by Trump’s lawyers if he somehow ends up in court over this. After you read the Smith and von Spakovsky pieces, though, read this 2012 post titled “Why John Edwards Is Guilty” written by, ah … Hans von Spakovsky.

FEC regulations state that the payment of a personal expense by any person other than the candidate is considered a contribution to the candidate, unless the payment would have been made irrespective of the candidacy. As the FEC said in a prior advisory opinion, the key question is, “Would the third party pay the expense if the candidate was not running for Federal office?”

The testimony of government witnesses makes it pretty clear that the payments by these donors would not have been made if Edwards had not been running for office. Edwards is a multimillionaire; he could easily have afforded to make the payments (including legally obligated child support) out of his personal funds. But such personal payments would have blown up his candidacy and made it impossible to hide what he clearly wanted to keep hidden. The payments by his maxed-out campaign contributors were clearly intended to “influence” the 2008 presidential election by keeping Edwards in the race and protecting his reputation.

He’s using a “but for” test to determine whether an expense qualifies as a campaign contribution or not. But for the fact that the defendant was running for office, would the mistress payoff have been made? There’s a strong argument to be made in Trump’s case that no, neither Stormy nor McDougal ever would have seen a dime if Trump hadn’t run for office. The timing speaks volumes. Both affairs happened a decade before the election; Daniels was shopping her story to tabloids like In Touch as far back as 2011. Trump, who’s even more of a multimillionaire than Edwards was, could have hushed them up with a check at any point if the goal was to spare himself and his family the personal pain of his dirty laundry being aired. Not until the final three months before Election Day 2016 did either woman see any money, though. How come?

We don’t have to speculate about this. According to the DOJ press release yesterday, Pecker’s company AMI “admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress [McDougal]’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.” They’ve already answered the question posed by the FEC and highlighted in van Spakovsky’s 2012 piece.

Bear in mind too that the feds’ case against John Edwards was wholly circumstantial. There was no direct evidence as to whether the candidate himself made the mistress payoff to influence the election or to protect his family, or both. Edwards eventually walked. In Trump’s case, there might be as many as three very well positioned cronies willing to testify that Trump himself the payoffs to Daniels and McDougal as necessary exclusively because any revelations from them might influence the election. Smith’s argument tries to sidestep that entire unhappy possibility by claiming that it doesn’t matter what Trump’s actual motive was. So long as he might have had a personal motive to make the payments (which, it must be noted, were caused by activity that occurred years before he became a candidate) then they can’t be campaign contributions. The DOJ will, or might, counter that in this case Cohen, Pecker, and Weisselberg are all prepared to swear under oath that Trump cared only about protecting his campaign, not his family. What would a federal court do with all that in deciding whether an expense made in regards to a personal matter with the sole purpose of influencing an election can rightly qualify as a campaign contribution? You tell me.

One other note here. He continues to insist that the FBI claims Mike Flynn didn’t lie. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to them! Trump fired him as NSA for lying to Mike Pence. What is he talking about?