Trump’s hush money is news again. Here’s why we should care

By | February 7, 2023

Norman L. Eisen, E. Danya Perry and Fred Wertheimer write:

A criminal investigation of former president Donald Trump now being restarted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and also discussed in a new book by one of his former prosecutors, Mark Pomerantz, raises vital issues of both election integrity and accountability. Both the investigation and the book address Trump’s hush money payments in the last days of his 2016 campaign and related matters. His personal attorney went to jail for campaign finance violations, admitting that the payments were illegal campaign contributions made on Trump’s behalf and for his benefit to keep voters in the dark about a scandalous affair. Yet Trump (identified as “Individual-1” by the Justice Department in court filings) emerged legally unscathed. That may now change if Bragg can overcome several major legal hurdles that are usefully identified in Pomerantz’s volume.

First some background. News initially broke more than five years ago that hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in the run up to the 2016 presidential election to secure the silence of Karen McDougal and Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, about sexual encounters with Trump. Within a year of those revelations, Trump’s fixer and attorney at the time, Michael Cohen, was convicted and sentenced in federal court for his role in the scheme. That included violations of federal law because the hush money payments benefited the campaign but exceeded legal limits on the amount and source of campaign contributions. (Disclosure: one of the authors, Perry, represented Cohen in a challenge asserting the violation of his constitutional rights in connection with his federal sentence.)

The criminal charges to which Cohen pled implicated Trump as “Individual-1,” but Trump was apparently not charged federally due to Justice Department guidance that it could not indict a sitting president. The Manhattan DA at that time was also investigating the payments as part of a much larger review of all of Trump’s alleged financial misdeeds. But that hit something of roadblock after Bragg took over the office in 2022.

Now, after nearly another year has lapsed, Bragg reportedly has resuscitated at least this narrow strand of the investigation into the hush money payments. That includes bringing multiple witnesses to the grand jury and subpoenaing phone records and other documents. While it is unclear why the case had apparently been dormant for so long, we support Bragg’s review of the hush money payments and hope—and suspect—it portends a revivification of other aspects of the broader investigation. [Continue reading…]

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