Speed Reads

campaign finance

Deadlocked FEC declines to investigate Trump over Stormy Daniels hush payment

The Federal Election Commission announced Thursday that it will not investigate possible campaign finance violations by former President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, tied to a $130,000 hush payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen had paid Daniels right before the election to keep her from disclosing an extramarital affair she says she had with Trump.

The payment was not reported on Trump's campaign filings. Cohen, who said he paid off Daniels and another woman on Trump's behalf and on his orders, was jailed in 2018 for violating campaign finance laws, tax evasion, and lying to Congress.

The FEC deadlocked over investigating Trump in a closed-door meeting in February, with two Republican commissioners voting to drop the issue, two Democratic commissioners voting to push forward, one Republican commissioner recusing himself, and the sixth commissioner, an independent, absent. The FEC's nonpartisan general counsel's office had advised investigating Trump, reporting in December it found "reason to believe" his campaign had "knowingly and willfully" violated campaign finance laws.

The two voting GOP commissioners, Trey Trainor and Sean Cooksey, explained in a letter that they "voted to dismiss these matters as an exercise of our prosecutorial discretion," arguing that "the public record is complete" due to Cohen's punishment and "pursuing these matters further was not the best use of agency resources."

The two Democratic commissioners, Ellen Weintraub and Chairwoman Shana Broussard, disagreed, noting that agency staff had recommended an investigation. "To conclude that a payment, made 13 days before Election Day to hush up a suddenly newsworthy 10-year-old story, was not campaign-related, without so much as conducting an investigation, defies reality," they wrote.

Cohen told The New York Times in a statement that "the hush money payment was done at the direction of and for the benefit of Donald J. Trump," adding: "Like me, Trump should have been found guilty. How the FEC committee could rule any other way is confounding."