President Donald Trump wasted no time Wednesday to downplay the potential fallout from the plea deal struck Tuesday by his former attorney, Michael Cohen.
Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal criminal counts, including tax evasion, bank fraud, and breaking campaign finance laws.
Cohen, 51, admitted he arranged payments to two women during the 2016 presidential race “at the direction of the candidate” referring to Trump, and that the payments were “for the principal purpose of influencing the election.”
In his tweet Wednesday, the president claimed Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations “that are not a crime,” presumably because they involved Trump’s own money and were not payments for anything campaign related.
But the president also claimed the media is overlooking a “big campaign finance violation” that was committed by President Barack Obama’s election campaign.
Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018
The tweet is a reference to a $375,000 settlement paid by Obama’s 2008 election campaign in 2012 for violations uncovered by the Federal Election Commission. In a January 2013 story about the payment, Politico reported it was one of the largest penalties ever levied against a presidential campaign.
The Politico report indicated the fine was for campaign reporting violations.
“The major sticking point for the FEC appeared to be a series of missing 48-hour notices for nearly 1,300 contributions totaling more than $1.8 million — an issue that lawyers familiar with the commission’s work say the FEC takes seriously,” Politico’s Maggie Haberman reported in the 2013 piece, written one month after the fine was paid. “The notices must be filed on contributions of $1,000 or more that are received within the 20-day window of Election Day.”
Haberman’s report also said the FEC cited the campaign for erroneous contribution dates on some campaign reports. The Obama campaign was also late returning some contributions that exceeded the legal limit.
The Politico report also cited unnamed sources as indicated $230,000 of the settlement payment came from the Obama campaign, and the remainder was paid by the Democratic National Committee.
The Obama campaign claimed the penalties, which were uncovered during an audit in response to complaints by the Republican National Committee, represented a “small portion” of the more than $750 million it raised during the 2008 election cycle.
“The 2008 campaign was a record breaking campaign with over 3 million grassroots donors,” Obama for America spokeswoman Katie Hogan said in an email to U.S. News. “The very few outstanding questions have now all been resolved.”
In an interview Tuesday on Fox News Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said Trump’s opponents are making Cohen’s allegations appear to be more significant than they are.
“Violation of election laws are regarded as kind of jaywalking in the realm of things about elections,” Dershowitz said.
“If somebody else pays the money in order to influence the outcome of the election, it is technically perhaps a violation of the election laws,” he said. “Every administration violates the election laws. Every candidate violates the election laws when they run for president. Usually, they pay a fine or something like that happens.”
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