It's been well documented and one person has spent time in jail already for it.
The letter, obtained by The Post on Wednesday, emerged as the disbarred lawyer appeared poised to become the star witness
in an unprecedented criminal case against his ex-boss, former President Donald Trump.
In it, Cohen told the Federal Election Commission that he “used his own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford,” aka Daniels, in 2016.
“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed Mr. Cohen for the payment directly or indirectly,” Cohen lawyer Stephen Ryan wrote on Feb. 8, 2018.
But a little more than six months later, Cohen changed his tune and copped a plea
to a laundry list of federal crimes that included making an excessive campaign contribution to Trump, now 76, by paying Daniels to keep quiet about her alleged 2006 affair with him.
“But Michael Cohen is far from solid evidence,” added Costello. “This guy, by any prosectors’ standard—and I used to be deputy chief of the criminal division in the Southern District of New York—I wouldn’t have touched a guy like Michael Cohen, especially if he’s a convicted perjurer.”
Cohen pleaded guilty
in 2018 to charges of tax evasion, making false statements to a federally insured bank, and campaign finance violations in connection with an alleged $130,000 payment to a lawyer representing adult actress Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
Cohen claims that Trump, during his 2016 presidential campaign, directed him to arrange the payment to Daniels as “hush money” in order to buy her silence after she claimed to have had an affair with Trump. The money was allegedly paid using campaign funds, a violation of campaign finance law.
Trump denies the affair and Costello’s claims and has called
the grand jury probe into him a witchhunt. The former president has accused
Bragg, a Democrat who was publicly criticized for declining to charge Trump last year, of prosecutorial misconduct.
Elsewhere on Monday, Costello told reporters that he’d handed over more than 300 emails involving his discussions with Cohen to prosecutors but that they had “cherry-picked” just six emails to question him about and that their context had been taken out of context in front of the jury.
The Federal Election Campaign Act holds that an “expenditure” is any “purchase, payment, loan, advance, deposit or gift of money, or anything of value, for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” According to Cohen and the U.S. Attorney, the hush-money payments were, it appears, made in the hopes of preventing information from becoming public before the election, and hence were “for the purpose of influencing” the election.
This means that, at a minimum, they had to be reported to the Federal Election Commission; further, if they were authorized by Mr. Trump, they would become, in the law’s parlance, “coordinated expenditures,” subject to limits on the amounts that could be spent. Since the lawful contribution limit is much lower than the payments made, and the payments were not reported, this looks like an open and shut case, right?
Well, no. Or at least not in the way some might presume. To the contrary, the law — following our common sense — tells us that the hush-money payments outlined by the U.S. Attorney are clearly not campaign expenditures. There is no violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act.
To reach the opposite conclusion, the U.S. Attorney is placing all his chips on the language “for the purpose of influencing an election.” Intuitively, however, we all know that such language cannot be read literally — if it were, virtually every political candidate of the past 45 years has been in near-constant violation. The candidate who thinks “I need to brush my teeth, shower, and put on a nice suit today in order to campaign effectively” is surely not required to report as campaign expenditures his purchases of toothpaste, soap, and clothing. When he eats his Wheaties — breakfast of champions, and surely one cannot campaign on an empty stomach — his cereal and milk are not campaign expenses. When he drives to his office to start making phone calls to supporters, his gas is not a campaign expense.
So what does it mean to be “for the purpose of influencing an election”? To understand this, we read the statutory language in conjunction other parts of the statute. Here the key is the statute’s prohibition on diverting campaign funds to “personal use.” This is a crucial distinction, because one of the primary factors separating campaign funds from personal funds is that the former must be spent on the candidate’s campaign, while the latter can be used to buy expensive vacations, cars, watches, furs, and such. The law defines “personal use” as spending “used to fulfill any commitment, obligation, or expense of a person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s election campaign.” So a candidate may intend for good toothpaste and soap, a quality suit, and a healthy breakfast to positively influence his election, but none of those are campaign expenditures, because all of those purchases would typically be made irrespective of running for office. And even if the candidate might not have brushed his teeth quite so often or would have bought a cheaper suit absent the campaign, these purchases still address his underlying obligations of maintaining hygiene and dressing himself.
"Cohen said he had no information against Trump,"
one memo summarizing attorney Robert Costello's interactions with Cohen stated. That memo, dated April 2019, recounted Costello's interview with federal prosecutors about conversations he and colleagues had with Cohen a year earlier.
Costello, a former federal prosecutor who has represented famous clients like George Steinbrenner, Leona Hemsley, Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon, told Just the News on Tuesday he provided Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office with more than 300 pages of emails, memos and texts chronicling his dealings with Cohen.
He said his documents showed Cohen took out a bank loan known as a HELOC — on his own —
during the 2016 presidential election to pay Stormy Daniels $130,000 under a nondisclosure agreement so she would remain quiet about her alleged relationship with Trump. Cohen bragged he kept the situation quiet so that Melania Trump and Cohen's own wife wouldn't learn about it, Costello said in an interview on the John Solomon Reports podcast, recounting what he said Cohen told him back in 2018.
"He said," Costello recalled, "'I didn't believe the information, but I knew that this was a situation that would cause embarrassment. So I negotiated with this lawyer, and we worked out a an NDA ... for the payment of $130,000.'
"And I said, 'Did you get that money from Donald Trump?' 'No.' 'Did you get it from any Trump Organization?' 'No.'
"I said, 'Did you take that money out of your own savings or checking?' 'No.'
"I said, 'Well, how'd you get the money?' He said, 'I took out a HELOC loan.' 'Why would you take out a HELOC loan to cover something like this?' He said 'because I wanted to keep it secret. If I took money from my account, my wife would know about it. I didn't want my wife to know about it. I didn't want Melania Trump to know about it.' He said, 'That's why I did it that way.'"