Not Guilty? Former FEC Commissioner Says Cohen and Trump Didn't Violate Campaign Finance Law
- A former member of theFederal Election Commission,
Hans von Spakovskyagrees with the president
and he joins us now.
Hans, thanks so much for being here.
- Sure, thanks for having me.
- Set this up for our viewers.
What is this campaign finance law
and why do you say DonaldTrump did not violate it?
- It's called the FederalElection Campaign Act
and it governs the raising of money
and the spending of moneyfor all federal campaigns.
It's anyone running forCongress or the presidency.
Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty
to a supposed violation of that law
because of payments that were made,
I guess you call them hush money payments,
to two women who were claiming
that they had had affairswith the president.
The problem with his guilty plea is
that those paymentsaren't covered by the law.
The only way these kind of expenses
are covered under the law
is if they are campaign related expenses.
And these are notcampaign related expenses.
This is a potential personalliability of the president
and you actually can't use campaign funds,
money that you've raisedfrom campaign contributors,
to pay for something like that.
- Well you had mentioned and quoted
Federal Election CommissionChairman Brad Smith,
who said that these payments to women
- Right.- were unseemly,
but they're not necessarily illegal.
- Yeah, and that's the key thing
for people to keep in mind here.
We're talking about whatis an actual violation
of federal law.
And this is not something
that the Federal Election Commission,
and that's the independent agency
that is supposed to enforcethis law on a civil basis
and that's where I used toserve as a commissioner.
It does not consider thatthese kind of payments
are related to a campaign.
Therefore, the rules andregulations don't apply
to how that kind of a payment is made.
- Do any of Michael Cohen's
or the president's actions, Hans,
constitute a civil offense?
- No, I don't think they do,
and they certainly don'tconstitute a criminal offense.
Well because, under the law,
to prove a criminal violationof the campaign finance law,
you have to prove that it was a knowing
and willful violation.
You can't prove that
when you have formerFEC commissioners saying
it's not a violation of the law.
You have the FEC saying it'snot a violation of the law.
That raises great doubts about it,
and so how can anyone befound to have willfully
and knowingly violated the law?
- Michael Cohen, hesays that this was done
to sway the election,
so doesn't that make itcampaign related, Hans?
- No, it doesn't, and here's why.
There's another provision of the law,
and this is something that the US Attorney
in New York is essentially ignoring.
There's another provisionof the law that says
that an expenditure or anexpense is not campaign related
if it's an expense that would exist
whether or not you're running for office.
And that's why this isnot a campaign expense.
This is the kind of claim
that celebrities of allkinds get fairly often
and it was not dependent
on the president running for office.
Yeah, it might affect his reputation
and it might affect the election,
but that does not necessarily make it
a campaign related expenseunder the applicable statute.
- Hans, one last question for you.
If this case, and Ihope I'm not getting you
to step outside of your lane too much,
but if this case isn't basedon campaign finance violations,
what's the case that prosecutors,you believe, have here?
- Well, remember, this wasonly one of four offenses
that Cohen pleaded guilty to.
The more serious charges were tax evasion
and financial fraud in applications
that he submitted to a bank.
You know, he also pleadedguilty to lying to Congress.
But the real offense here,
the one that was mostserious, was tax evasion,
and that's why he was facing, potentially,
a lot of time in jail because of that.
- All right, Hans von Spakovsky
from the Heritage Foundation,thank you so much.