SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Adam Schiff (D-CA), a former federal prosecutor, said recent court filings in the case against Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen implicate the President in at least two violations of campaign finance laws.
“There’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office the Justice Department may indict him,” Schiff told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, December 9.
The crimes relate to payments to two women who each claim they had an affair with the President – Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. Cohen arranged $280,000 in payments to the women to keep their stories out of the news in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election.
The President has denied knowledge of the payments, but a sentencing memo written by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York says otherwise.
The memo, filed on Friday, states, “Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments.”
And “Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1.” (Individual-1 is President Trump.)
“That he may be the first President in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time,” said Schiff. “To have the Justice Department basically say that the President of the United States not only coordinated but directed an illegal campaign scheme that may have had an election-altering impact is pretty breathtaking.”
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) says people should not be jailed for campaign finance violations, telling Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, “…if we’re gonna prosecute people and put them in jail for campaign finance violations, we’re gonna become a banana republic like where every president gets prosecuted and everybody gets thrown in jail when they’re done with office.”
Most violations of federal campaign finance laws are punishable with a civil penalties like fines. But a violation can also be a crime if the amount at issue is more than $2,000 and the person committing the offense knew it was unlawful. 52 U.S.C. 30109. The penalty is five years per violation. (52 U.S.C. 30109)
According to the memo, the President knew about the payments. Assuming that’s true, more is required to show a civil or criminal act.
Federal elections law requires candidate committees to report campaign contributions and expenditures, defined as, “…anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office…” (52 U.S.C. 30101)
If government can prove the President knew the payments to McDougal and Daniels were meant to influence the election, failure to report them could result in a civil fine. If the President also knew the whole scheme was illegal, it could be a crime punishable by five years in prison.
The failure to report may not be the only legal trouble for the President and his team.
Federal law also prohibits corporations from making contributions to federal candidates. (52 U.S.C. 30118)
According to the memo, Cohen paid $130,000 to Daniels out of a personal line of credit and was then reimbursed by the Trump Organization.
If the President knew his campaign was receiving something of value from a corporation (like the Trump Organization) though a conduit (like Cohen) and that it was unlawful, criminal penalties could attach.
Such “conduit” crimes can also be prosecuted for conspiracy and making false statements to the federal government. (18. U.S.C. 371, 18. U.S.C. 1001)