All the President's Hush Money
Not since Richard Nixon discussed paying off E. Howard Hunt for the Watergate burglary has a president been caught on tape seeking to muffle the emergence of negative stories with cash. But in a recording released Monday evening, the then-candidate Donald Trump is heard speaking with his former personal attorney Michael Cohen about making a payment to prevent the story of an extramarital affair with the model Karen McDougal from emerging.
“It would be a reporting violation if Trump used his own funds for such a payment, and both a reporting violation and a prohibited corporate contribution if Trump Organization funds were used,” Brendan Fischer with the Campaign Legal Center said in an email. “The evidence suggests there wasn’t always a clear distinction between Trump’s personal funds and Trump Organization funds (or Trump Foundation funds, for that matter).”
As a media organization, AMI benefits from an exemption in campaign-finance law, which states that an “expenditure” does not include any news story “distributed” through a publication by a press entity acting in its “legitimate press function.” If AMI purchased the McDougal story and simply decided not to run it, it would be exercising its judgment as a journalistic organization and there would be nothing untoward about it. If it purchased the story without intending to run it, however, it might not be subject to that exemption.
“AMI would probably not be acting in its ‘legitimate press function’ if the purpose of the payment was to keep the McDougal story from going public,” Fischer said. “Preventing the public from learning about newsworthy information is contrary to the role of the press, and generally should not be protected by the press exemption.”