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February 14, 2018

On Tuesday night, Michael Cohen, a longtime personal lawyer for President Trump, made the startling admission that he had, after all, paid $130,000 to adult film actress Stephanie "Stormy Daniels" Clifford right before the 2016 election. The Wall Street Journal reported in January that Cohen had paid Daniels $130,000, through a company set up for that purpose, to stay quiet about an extramarital affair she was telling reporters she had with Trump in 2006.

"Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly," Cohen said, not ruling out that Trump himself had reimbursed him. On Tuesday night, Fox News national correspondent Ed Henry tackled the big question: "This might raise more questions about possible hush money, since the president and the porn star have insisted nothing happened, so why pay her? Well Cohen just told me in a phone call, 'Even if something is untrue, it can be damaging.' His goal all along was to protect the president."

On MSNBC, Brian Williams asked legal analyst Jill Wine-Banks why this would "be important and germane enough to re-inject the porn star story back into the news cycle?" Using campaign money "would have been an improper use of campaign funding," Wine-Banks said. "But, first of all, all of Michael Cohen's money comes from the Trump Organization, so it's basically Trump money no matter what. And the admission that they're paying a porn star says something: Why would they pay her? It's because she could have possibly blackmailed the president." Blackmail from a former paramour or Russians would be "a serious problem," she added.

Even if Cohen used his own money, campaign finance experts tell the Journal, he "likely violated election rules because it wasn't reported to the Federal Election Commission." And Cohen's admission that he made the payment to protect Trump suggests he was aiding the Trump campaign. Peter Weber

January 22, 2018
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Monday, the nonprofit government watchdog group Common Cause filed two federal complaints, alleging that President Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen paid $130,000 in October 2016 to an adult film star who had an affair with Trump, and this may have been a violation of campaign finance laws.

In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Common Cause's campaign finance expert Paul S. Ryan wrote that "because the funds were paid for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential general election," this payment should have been considered a campaign expense, but was never reported.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that Cohen paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 shortly before the election, around the same time she stopped speaking with different journalists about an affair she said she had with Trump. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, told In Touch and Slate about having consensual sexual encounters with Trump after she met him at a 2006 golf tournament. Cohen has denied paying Daniels, and told The Washington Post on Monday Common Cause's complaints are "baseless." Catherine Garcia