WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is defending his 2016 payments to two alleged ex-paramours as a “simple private transaction” that did not violate campaign finance laws as outlined by federal prosecutors last week.
Trump, in a pair of morning tweets Monday, described payments made by his former personal attorney Michael Cohen to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal in the run-up to the election as a private transaction “done correctly by a lawyer." Trump added that if any laws were violated it was Cohen’s “liability if he made a mistake, not me.”
The president’s tweets came as several prominent congressional Democrats raised the prospect of impeachment or jail time for Trump over the payments made to both women in exchange for their silence on alleged trysts with Trump nearly a decade earlier.
Last week, federal prosecutors in Manhattan indicated in court filings that Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney for more than a decade, violated campaign finance laws by coordinating the payments in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election. Prosecutors said Cohen “acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election,” at the direction of “Individual 1," who matches the description of Trump.
Cohen, who has been cooperating with federal investigators, has pleaded guilty to two counts of campaign finance law violations stemming from the payments.
Trump initially denied knowledge of the six-figure payouts when confronted with news reports about the payments earlier in the year, but then acknowledged the payments for the first time in May, arguing he did not violate campaign finance laws because campaign funds were not used. The president in a May tweet cast the payments as “very common among celebrities and people of wealth.”
Campaign finance watchdog groups have argued the payments should have been disclosed in Trump’s 2016 campaign filings because federal law mandates the disclosure of payments made “for the purposes of influencing an election.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday he believes Trump faces the “very real prospect” of being indicted by the Justice Department upon leaving office.
Schiff, a former prosecutor, appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said: “My take-away is there's a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him. That he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the incoming House Judiciary chairman, said Sunday the payments would “certainly . . . be impeachable offenses because even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office.”
Republican lawmakers have largely defended the president against calls for impeachment, arguing that campaign finance violations should be subject to fines not prison time.
Sen. Rand Paul (R- Kentucky), appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday said any attempt to prosecute Trump over campaign finance violations would be “a miscarriage of justice.”
“If we're gonna prosecute people and put them in jail for campaign finance violations, we're gonna become a banana republic,” Paul said.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) also raised concerns about the prospect of impeachment proceedings, telling "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd on Sunday that "if impeachment is moved forward on the evidence that we have now, at least a third of the country would think it was just political revenge and a coup against the president. That wouldn’t serve us well at all. The best way to solve a problem like this, to me, is elections.”