Speed Reads

Deep State

The FEC keeps sparing Trump in election law violations tied to his campaign

The Federal Election Commission informed the watchdog group Common Cause on Tuesday that the publisher of the National Enquirer has agreed to pay a $187,500 fine for "knowingly and willfully" violating campaign finance laws to benefit former President Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. The company and its former chief executive, David Pecker, admitted they paid $150,000 to bury former Playboy model Karen McDougal's story about an extramarital affair with Trump. Trump, once again, was not sanctioned.

When Common Cause filed its complaints with the FEC in 2018, it alleged that Trump and his campaign also violated election laws by making hush-money payments to McDougal and Stormy Daniels, who says she slept with Trump, too. The FEC's nonpartisan staff agreed, recommending the commissioners investigate Trump for campaign finance violations, The Wall Street Journal reports

In the Daniels case, two Republican commissioners, Trey Trainor and Sean Cooksey, blocked that recommendation, arguing, among other things, that the federal government already sent former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to prison for that crime. The FEC will release its votes and deliberations on the McDougal decision within 30 days, but it told Common Cause "there were an insufficient number of votes to find reason to believe that the remaining respondents violated the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971." 

Common Cause's Paul S. Ryan said the other respondents were Trump and his election committee.

Pecker told prosecutors in 2018 that he buried the McDougal story at Trump's behest, the Journal reports, and Cohen said Trump had directed him to pay Daniels and, through Pecker's American Media Inc., McDougal. Federal prosecutors, without using his name, said he was a co-conspirator for directing Cohen to facilitate the payments. 

"Trump masterminded this whole thing, and so far he's walked," Ryan said. "Everyone who carried out his dirty work here, Cohen and AMI, paid penalties and did prison time," and "it's head-scratching that the mastermind of this criminal enterprise, Donald Trump, has still not been held accountable." 

The GOP commissioners also blocked FEC action on Donald Trump Jr. and top campaign officials for a 2016 Trump Tower meeting with foreign agents. The FEC apparently has a few more Trump-related cases to work through, though expectations are low for any enforcement actions. That's not to say Trump will necessarily emerge unscathed — the Daniels payment was the impetus for an ongoing criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney.