A key member of the Federal Election Commission today rejected the Manhattan district attorney’s indictment of former President Donald Trump as a violation of federal election laws.
“It’s not a campaign finance violation. It’s not a reporting violation of any kind,” said FEC Commissioner James E. “Trey” Trainor.
In trying to stretch the law to make it look like a violation, he added, District Attorney Alvin Bragg “is really trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole.”
In a 34-count indictment of Trump, the first criminal case ever against a former president, Bragg charged that a $130,000 payment made by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to porn star Stormy Daniels, which Cohen went to jail for in a plea deal, violated several campaign finance laws that splashed onto Trump.
But, said Trainor, the FEC and Justice Department already considered the case and tossed it.
With that as background, Trainor told Secrets today that it will be hard for a judge or jury to come up with a different conclusion since it’s the FEC and DOJ that prosecute federal campaign finance law. He reiterated that in a Tuesday tweet that showed the FEC hearing room, and he wrote, “This is where campaign finance violations are tried.”
Trainor, a Texas-based election lawyer appointed by Trump, listed several reasons why the FEC decided not to take up the payment to Daniels in 2018. He also released a statement, shown below, that he and Commissioner Sean Cooksey wrote in April 2021 explaining why the FEC voted to dismiss the case.
First, he said, Cohen took the blame in his plea deal. “At the end of the day, there’s the person who committed the crime, and there’s the person who is behind bars because of it,” Trainor said of Cohen.
Second, the paperwork violation in question came well after Trump’s 2016 election, so it couldn’t have been done to help his election.
Third, it is not obvious that the reason for the payment and the reimbursement to Cohen was to influence the election, thus failing the “objective standard” of law. “It has to be something that anybody on the street can look at and say the only reason you did that was to influence the campaign,” said Trainor. “There’s a lot of reasons that he could have done it that aren’t related to him being a candidate for president, and so therefore, it wouldn’t have met the standard as campaign expenditure under federal law,” he added.