The long-awaited 60 Minutes interview with Stormy Daniels and her attorney Michael Avenatti revealed several new pieces of information regarding Daniels’ alleged affair with Donald Trump and her 2016 agreement to remain silent about it. While some parts were juicier than others, perhaps the most significant moment (legally speaking) was the revelation of a plain old letter between lawyers.
A significant legal issue surrounding the $130,000 that Daniels received from Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen in October 2016 to keep quiet is whether it constituted an illegal and unreported in-kind contribution to Trump’s campaign.
The payment, which far exceeded the maximum allowed for campaign contributions, could be illegal if it was meant to benefit the Trump campaign. When former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards faced similar allegations, he claimed that any effort to keep his affair under wraps was to protect his marriage, not his candidacy. Cohen could make the same argument, but given that the agreement was signed less than two weeks before the election, circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that this was election-related.
Former FEC Chairman Trevor Potter, who is the founder and current president of the Campaign Legal Center, argued that the timing makes the case against Trump stronger than the one against Edwards, who was acquitted.
“It’s right in the middle of the run-up to election day,” Potter said, “when Trump’s conduct with women was a prime campaign issue, in fact it was what everyone was focused on.”
On Trump’s end, his liability for accepting an illegal contribution and also failing to report it to the Federal Elections Commission rests mainly on whether he was aware of the payment at the time. Cohen has insisted that Trump did not know about it at the time and he claimed that he was never reimbursed for the payment. Still, a letter to Cohen from Keith Davidson, the attorney representing Daniels in the agreement, indicates that Cohen was not working independently.
The letter, which was shown on 60 Minutes on Sunday, was addressed to:
Executive Vice President and
Special Counsel to Donald J. Trump
The Trump Organization
The letter was addressed to Trump Tower in New York City, and was accompanying the NDA agreement signed by Daniels, and Michael Cohen. Cohen, and his attorney have previously insisted that Cohen was working on behalf of “Essential Consultants” when he signed the agreement.
“This idea that there’s a separation now, between Mr. Cohen individually and the Trump Organization, or Mr. Cohen individually and Donald Trump, it’s nonsense,” Avenatti said.
The letter does seem to indicate that Cohen was officially working on Trump’s behalf — or at the very least — working for Trump’s benefit.
“If he does this on behalf of his client,” Potter said, “the candidate, that is a coordinated, illegal in-kind contribution by Cohen for the purpose of influencing the election, of benefiting the candidate by keeping this secret.”
[Image via CBS screengrab]