People have heard the story earlier than: A lurid story of a presidential candidate accused of arranging hush-money funds to hide an alleged affair.
But when former President Donald Trump is indicted by a Manhattan grand jury in reference to a pre-election cost to porn star Stormy Daniels, the case of one other politician – two-time Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards – presents clues to the protection Trump is more likely to mount.
Greater than a decade in the past, Edwards beat costs that he had damaged federal marketing campaign finance legal guidelines as a part of an elaborate scheme that concerned two of his donors supplying practically $1 million in secret funds to cover his pregnant mistress through the 2008 presidential marketing campaign.
Edwards’ attorneys contended at trial – as Trump’s authorized staff now argues – that the funds didn’t violate federal election regulation as a result of they have been geared toward shielding his household from ache and embarrassment fairly than making an attempt to hide an extramarital affair from voters to additional his political ambitions.
“It’s probably the most carefully out there precedent for this example, and that’s not a great monitor report for somebody trying to convey the same case,” mentioned Steven Friedland, an Elon College regulation professor who attended a lot of Edwards’ six-week federal trial in Greensboro, North Carolina in 2012.
It’s not clear what costs, if any, the Manhattan district lawyer Alvin Bragg and the grand jury will pursue, stemming from a $130,000 cost made to Daniels simply days earlier than the 2016 basic election. And authorized specialists say tying a state legal cost to federal election regulation seems to be untested.
However Trump’s allies have begun to attract parallels to Edwards’ case, which resulted in a high-profile loss for the Justice Division’s Public Integrity Division, then headed by Jack Smith. (Smith now serves because the particular counsel overseeing federal investigations into components of the January 6, 2021, rebel and the retention of labeled paperwork at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property.)
Within the 2012 federal campaign-finance trial, the jury acquitted Edwards of 1 cost of accepting unlawful marketing campaign contributions and deadlocked on 5 remaining counts, together with that he made a false assertion to the Federal Election Fee by not disclosing on his marketing campaign filings the donors’ spending to cover the mistress.
Ultimately, the Justice Division determined to not retry Edwards.
Edwards, who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004, retreated from nationwide politics after the case concluded. He now practices regulation in North Carolina.
Trump, who’s waging his third presidential bid, has steadfastly denied an affair with Daniels, whose authorized identify is Stephanie Clifford, and he has asserted that “NO crime has been dedicated.”
The previous president’s lawyer, Joe Tacopina, has publicly portrayed the $130,000 payoff on the eve of the 2016 basic election as responding to “extortion” by the grownup movie actress, who was trying to go public with claims of a 2006 affair with Trump. He additionally has sought to attract a distinction between the cost to Daniels and cash derived from political donors.
“He made this with private funds to forestall one thing from popping out, false, that’s embarrassing to himself, his household, his younger son,” Tacopina mentioned earlier this month on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“If the spending would exist regardless of the marketing campaign, it’s not a marketing campaign regulation violation,” Tacopina added on MSNBC. “Finish of story.”
Any legal case that seeks to hyperlink the hush-money cost to a marketing campaign finance violation would activate whether or not it was meant to cover the matter from the voting public.
In Edwards’ trial, protection lawyer Abbe Lowell painted the previous North Carolina senator as a “unhealthy husband” who cheated on his spouse, Elizabeth, as she battled most cancers that will declare her life in 2010.
However that didn’t make Edwards a legal, he mentioned.
“This can be a case that ought to outline the distinction between somebody committing a incorrect and somebody committing a criminal offense,” Lowell mentioned on the time.
Notably, the jurors within the Edwards trial by no means heard from the 2 donors who funded the key funds. Banking heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, who offered greater than $700,000, was too frail at 101 to seem in courtroom; the opposite, Fred Baron – a Texas lawyer and Edwards’ one-time finance chairman – had died earlier than the trial started.
And the protection challenged the credibility of the prosecution’s star witness, Andrew Younger – a one-time Edwards aide who mentioned he falsely claimed paternity of the kid that Edwards fathered on the politician’s behest.
Any costs involving the Daniels payoff seemingly would middle on proof from Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, who organized the funds to Daniels in late October 2016 and testified lately earlier than the Manhattan grand jury.
Trump and his allies have mentioned Cohen, who served greater than a yr in jail after pleading responsible in reference to the hush-money scheme and different monetary and tax crimes, is a convicted perjurer who can’t be trusted. And final week, Cohen’s one-time lawyer Robert Costello, testified earlier than the grand jury on the request of Trump attorneys as a part of an effort to chip away at Cohen’s reliability as a witness.
Younger’s credibility was “entrance and middle” on the Edwards’ trial and “that would be the case right here with Michael Cohen,” famous Elon College’s Friedland.
For his half, Cohen has sought to place Trump on the middle of the payoff scheme, telling a congressional committee in 2019 that his former boss directed him to take out a home-equity line of credit score and use that cash to acquire Daniels’ silence with a view to “forestall harm to his marketing campaign.”
Cohen was reimbursed in installments after submitting invoices claiming the payments have been a part of a “retainer settlement.” Trump’s real-estate firm “falsely accounted for these funds as ‘authorized bills,’” federal prosecutors wrote in Cohen’s 2018 sentencing memo.
Conservative authorized commentators lengthy have maintained that it was a stretch to have Cohen plead responsible to a criminal offense within the payoff scheme within the first place.
“On the very least, the regulation is murky about whether or not paying hush cash to a mistress is a ‘marketing campaign expense’ or a private expense,” Brad Smith, a former Republican member of the Federal Election Fee, wrote in a Washington Submit op-ed on the time.
CNN has beforehand reported that Manhattan prosecutors are weighing whether or not to cost the previous president with falsifying enterprise data of the Trump Group over how the reimbursements to Cohen have been characterised.
Below state regulation, falsifying enterprise data is a misdemeanor. To convey a extra critical cost, prosecutors must reveal it was carried out to advance or conceal one other crime, comparable to breaking election regulation, authorized specialists say.
However policing legal violations of federal marketing campaign statutes is the purview of the US Division of Justice. And searching for to hyperlink federal election regulation to a possible violation of state regulation could be troublesome, mentioned Richard Hasen, an election regulation knowledgeable and regulation professor on the College of California-Los Angeles
“It isn’t a violation of state regulation to not observe federal regulation, so it’s exhausting to see how that federal cost traces up with the state cost,” Hasen mentioned.
Regardless of the core similarity between the Edwards prosecution and what Trump may face, “the distinction right here is that we now have a state prosecutor bringing the cost, versus a federal prosecutor within the John Edwards case,” mentioned Jerry H. Goldfeder, a veteran election and campaign-finance lawyer at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.
“I imagine it’s untested for a state prosecutor to convey a case in opposition to a federal candidate,” he added. “However we will see the way it seems.”
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