Bragg accused of essentially stealing money from Trump to repay Trump, if campaign finance violation theory is true

 April 21, 2024

A dubious underlying theory of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's "hush money" business records falsification case against former President Donald Trump is that Trump's personal reimbursement of payments made by his then-personal attorney to silence an accuser ahead of the 2016 election somehow constituted a campaign finance law violation.

Yet, given that candidates can contribute as much as they want to their own campaigns, as well as that unlawful contributions must be returned to the donor, Bragg is essentially stealing from Trump in order to repay Trump, according to a Wall Street Journal letter to the editor.

In other words, if Bragg's purported theory of culpability is correct, the former president is both an alleged perpetrator and an alleged victim in a politically concocted non-crime.

Trump's reimbursement of Cohen allegedly a campaign finance violation

USA Today reported that former President Donald Trump was charged with multiple counts of falsification of business records over his 2017 monthly repayments to then-personal attorney Michael Cohen to reimburse him for the $130,000 he paid porn actress Stormy Daniels in 2016 to silence her allegations of a prior extramarital affair with Trump years earlier.

The falsification charges are typically misdemeanors, but DA Bragg elevated them to felonies on the vague and unspecified accusation that the records were falsified to cover up some other alleged crime -- most likely campaign finance law violations.

As the theory goes, the hush money payment to Daniels was intended to influence the upcoming 2016 election and therefore constituted a contribution to Trump's campaign above the law's limits on campaign contributions.

Bragg himself even said last year in an interview that his prosecution of Trump is not about "money for sex," but rather, "We would say it's about conspiring to corrupt a presidential election and then lying in New York business records to cover it up."

Trump reimbursed Cohen with his own money

Forbes reported that, according to DA Bragg's indictment, then-President Trump made monthly payments to then-personal attorney Cohen throughout 2017 that totaled around $420,000 -- a total intended to cover not just the $130,000 payment to Daniels but also a separate expense, a bonus, and taxes that would be owed.

The Trump Organization made the first two payments while the remainder were paid directly by Trump himself, with Bragg asserting that those payments were illegal because they were labeled in the record books as legal service payments even though Cohen wasn't officially on a retainer as Trump's attorney.

The key detail to remember here is that, according to Bragg himself, the reimbursement of Cohen's payment to Daniels which supposedly violated campaign finance laws came from Trump's personal bank account.

Bragg's felony theory "isn’t even a violation"

Enter appellate attorney Paul Kamenar of the National Legal and Policy Center and his letter to the WSJ editors, in which he wrote that DA Bragg's "theory that the $130,000 hush-money payment by Donald Trump was effectively a donation to his campaign 'in excess of federal limits' isn’t even a violation."

"Putting aside that both the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department took a pass on bringing such charges, the Supreme Court has made clear in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) that a candidate can give unlimited amounts of his or her own money to his or her campaign under the First Amendment," he continued.

"And even if the payments were impermissible in-kind contributions to the campaign, FEC rules provide that unlawful contributions to a campaign should be returned to the donor," Kamenar noted.

The brief letter to the editor concluded, "So the hush money that left Mr. Trump’s right pocket should be returned to his left pocket? What a trial spectacle indeed."

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