TRUMP: "Many people currently a part of my opposition, including President Obama & the Dems, have had campaign violations, in some cases for very large sums of money. These are civil cases. They paid a fine & settled. While no big deal, I did not commit a campaign violation!" — tweet Saturday.
Many people currently a part of my opposition, including President Obama & the Dems, have had campaign violations, in some cases for very large sums of money. These are civil cases. They paid a fine & settled. While no big deal, I did not commit a campaign violation!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2019
THE FACTS: Trump has been tied to — but not charged with — a crime. At issue is not a routine campaign violation.
Prosecutors' court filings last month said Trump directed Cohen to make payments to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal during the 2016 presidential campaign. Both women alleged they had extramarital affairs with Trump, which the White House denies.
Cohen, who pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance crimes in connection with those payments, had previously implicated Trump. Now the Justice Department is backing up Cohen's claims.
In particular, the Justice Department says the hush money payments were unreported campaign contributions meant to influence the outcome of the election. That assertion makes the payments subject to campaign finance laws, which restrict how much people can donate to a campaign and bar corporations from making direct contributions.
It's unclear whether Trump will actually be charged with illegal activity, because Justice Department legal memos from 1973 and 2000 have suggested that a sitting president is immune from indictment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told NBC this past week that Trump isn't necessarily immune, calling an indictment of a sitting president "an open discussion in terms of the law."
There's a big difference between President Barack Obama's campaign violation and Cohen's case.
A Federal Election Commission audit found that the 2008 Obama campaign failed to file 48-hour contribution reports in a timely manner for more than 1,200 donations totaling $1.9 million. The commission also found the campaign was late refunding some contributions that exceeded legal limits, and discovered some other reporting errors regarding contribution dates.
The commission fined the Obama campaign $375,000 for the violations. The campaign was not found to have willfully violated the law, making it a civil infraction.
In Cohen's case, he admitted he knew he was breaking the law by making the payments. Cohen told ABC last month that "of course" Trump knew it was wrong to make the hush-money payments, though he did not provide any specific evidence in the interview. Unlike the Obama case, where the issue was timely reporting, the hush money payments were never disclosed at all on Trump's campaign filings.
Andrew Herman, a lawyer specializing in campaign finance at law firm Miller & Chevalier, said the two cases are "completely different species."
"One is a paperwork error," he said. "And the other is a conscious attempt to obscure payments made to affect an election."