Stormy in a Teacup

Worrying about Trump paying off pornstars misses the point.

Amidst much trumpeting, the venerable "news" show "60 Minutes" set a ten-year viewing record of 22.1 million Americans who tuned in to watch a flaming homosexual interview an aging stripper and porn star.  No #MeToo worries here, at least!

Though he wasn't present, Donald Trump was the driving force behind both the sleaze and the numbers: Stormy Daniels claims to have had an affair with him prior to the election and to have been well-paid for her silence.  No evidence of these assignations was presented, although lack of evidence didn't present the slavering media hounds from predicting...

...well, what exactly?  We've already established that a sexual affair no matter how sordid is not grounds for a successful impeachment - and rightly not, according to that selfsame media.

Perhaps the media expects Mr. Trump's evangelical voters to abandon him in disgust?  No doubt that would be the choice of anyone who voted for him thinking that he was the second coming of the Apostle Paul, assuming anyone that ignorant and naive was capable of finding their way to the voting booth in the first place.  As any number of faith leaders have pointed out, voters were choosing a president, not a pastor, and like all Americans, were intimately aware of Donald Trump's personal proclivities.  It's not like he's ever tried to hide them!  Indeed, his approval ratings seem to be drifting upwards just now.

If anything, it would be more surprising to find out that Mr. Trump hadn't availed himself of Ms. Daniels' polystyrene charms, though apparently he claims she's not his type anyway.

Supposing he's lying.  So what?  From a man who's had three wives and publicly cheated on at least the first, a consensual affair with an adult woman who makes a living as a professional sleaze merchant doesn't add much dirt.  Compared to the many credible allegations of forcible sexual assault that swirl around "Dirtbag Bill" Clinton and the proven fact that he seduced a lowly intern in the Oval Office - nowadays, an illegal act anywhere but in government - this absurd sideshow merely makes the media look even more desperate and even more incapable of doing any serious damage to Teflon Don.

And, as happens so often, they've missed the truly interesting part of the story.

Follow the Money!

Consider the facts that are not in dispute: Mr. Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen paid $130,000 to Ms. Daniels in exchange for a confidentiality agreement which she's now broken in spectacular fashion.  We know this with a high degree of certainty because the payment was so large that it was reported to the Feds by his bank, as required by law.

That might seem like a lot of money to you, but as he frequently reminds us, Mr. Trump is a billionaire; $130,000 is chump change to get an annoyance to shut up, even if there's absolutely no underlying truth to whatever she's saying.  Mr. Cohen is no pauper either.  In fact, since Ms. Daniels broke the agreement for which she was paid, he's now going to get his money back and perhaps more besides because he can sue her for damages.  The payment has already served its purpose: her story didn't come out until after the election, which is what mattered.

The problem is that, since there's an election involved, rules of common sense quickly vanish, thanks to our intrusive regimen of incumbent-protection measures masquerading as campaign-finance laws.  Normal people are restricted as to the amount they can contribute to campaigns; campaigns must report how much they spend and on what; contributions in-kind have to be reported in many cases.  The candidate himself can spend as much as he pleases, but even so, it must still be reported.

Does paying off a claimed mistress count as a campaign expense?  The Justice Department thought so when it prosecuted Vice President John Edwards for allowing rich donors to buy off his mistress, the mother of his love child.  The jury disagreed: Mr. Edwards walked away from court a free man, albeit despised by all.

The rules are different for Democrats, as we know - but Donald Trump has the advantage of many decades' more experience than Mr. Edwards.

Let's assume the very worst: Imagine that Mr. Trump did cheat on his gorgeous wife, Melania with the immeasurably less classy Ms. Daniels.  Imagine also that he was well aware of the need for a confidentiality agreement and instructed his lawyer to make it happen without a paper trail leading back to him.

The details can never be known: even Democrats acknowledge that whatever conversations Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen may have had are covered by attorney-client privilege and cannot be subpoenaed in court.

It's not illegal for Mr. Trump to spend his own money however he pleases, but assuming events took place as hypothesized above, did he break campaign finance laws by not reporting this expense?  Absolutely not: he has not paid back his lawyer at all, hence he has no such campaign expense to be reported.

Well then, maybe Mr. Cohen broke campaign finance laws by not reporting the sums he personally paid out on Mr. Trump's behalf?  Ah, that's where things get interesting.

Loopholes, Lawyers, and Schemes

Consider the hotels a candidate and his staff stay in on the campaign trail.  Do Hilton and Marriott have to report campaign contributions when candidates occupy their rooms?  Of course not: they send the campaign a bill and expect to get paid.  Not all the bills get paid before the election; some don't get paid until months or even years afterwards.

If you think about it for a moment, those expenses will not get reported, at least not soon enough to make any difference.  They won't get reported by the vendors because they expect to get paid; and they won't get reported by the campaign because they have in fact not yet been paid.  By the time the hotel writes the bills off as uncollectable, they may well have forgotten the purpose of the stay and forget to report at all - and, since the election is so far in the past, nobody else will care either.

In the case of the Stormy Daniels payment, Mr. Cohen has been Mr. Trump's lawyer and friend for many years.  Is Mr. Cohen going to sue Mr. Trump for nonpayment of an invoice?  Of course not; he's just going to leave it on the tab.  If Mr. Cohen can collect from Ms. Daniels because she violated the agreement, Mr. Trump owes him nothing and one can argue that he ought to split the profit of the damages with Mr. Trump.

If Mr. Cohen can't collect from Ms. Daniels, he might get his money in 2025 from retired President Trump, plus interest, as which point Mr. Trump can report the expense in his last filing when the Trump for President Campaign Fund finally closes down.

Or maybe Mr. Cohen will get stiffed on the bill and write it off as a bad debt.  Then, and only then, might it be considered a reportable campaign contribution - but again, the report will be years beyond any possible relevance.

Whether or not he realized it or intended it, Mr. Trump has just driven a stake through the heart of campaign finance laws.  All you need is a rich friend who's a lawyer, and to be rich yourself.  With that combination, you can concoct protected schemes to pay for anything you please, and avoid all reporting requirements perfectly legally.

Ms. Daniels' 15 minutes of fame has revealed that our campaign finance laws have no clothes.  How's that for an aging stripper, who'd otherwise be well on her way to being forgotten?

Once the circus has moved on, though, she may find herself in a compromising position.  If Mr. Cohen sues her for violating the agreement - as, apparently, he has every ability to do, and a strong chance of winning - will the Democrats come to her aid, or will she end up stripped for real?

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Partisanship.
Reader Comments

This Stormin' Whorein' is what the "Mainstream" media does best, it's what they know best, it is who they are....

March 29, 2018 11:28 AM

Everybody has been careful to say "Donald Trump," and to not say "President Trump." There are 2, count them, two, men named Donald Trump these days, one of whom has recently filed for a divorce.

Could it be that the MSM has leaped to the wrong conclusion? I would really like to see the detailed wording of Ms. Daniels' confidentiality agreement.

March 29, 2018 6:16 PM

You aren't the only ones asking this question:

but I like your answer better. They say the would not have paid unless the story was true, which is arrant nonsense - the MSM are happy to publish uncorroborated lies, so keeping her quiet would be sensible regardless of truth.

Sigh. They don't get it.

March 29, 2018 8:22 PM
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