What these Cohen tapes are disclosing about hush money, and illegal use of campaign funds is newsworthy. The purpose of exposing what they say is a curious phenomenon.
Who gains from the tape release? Is Cohen still hedging his bets in support of the president. Pundits are suggesting it is very curious that Cohen has not come out (flipped) and he may still be playing both sides.
The recording marks a startling new chapter in the mystery surrounding Trump, Cohen, and payoffs made in the closing days of the 2016 campaign. As November approached, Cohen paid $130,000 to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about an affair she had with Trump. That August, AMI, which owns the National Enquirer, bought the rights to McDougal’s story of an affair with Trump for a similar amount, $150,000, but never published any stories on the subject. Federal investigators are reportedly looking into whether these payments constituted campaign-finance violations—cash spent on Trump’s behalf to prevent damaging information about him from leaking out, but without being properly disclosed. Trump’s spokespeople have denied that he knew about the AMI payment until just before the election, a denial clearly contradicted by the new recording, which is from September 2016. They have continued to deny any legal wrongdoing, and that the president has engaged in extramarital affairs.
The recording also raises the question of whether Trump Organization funds were used to make illegal campaign contributions. During the conversation, Cohen is heard telling Trump that he spoke to “Allen” about the payments, an apparent reference to Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, who has also handled aspects of the president’s personal finances and served as the treasurer of his foundation.
It would be a reporting violation if Trump used his own funds for such a payment, and both a reporting violation and a prohibited corporate contribution if Trump Organization funds were used,” Brendan Fischer with the Campaign Legal Center said in an email. “The evidence suggests there wasn’t always a clear distinction between Trump’s personal funds and Trump Organization funds (or Trump Foundation funds, for that matter).”
As a media organization, AMI benefits from an exemption in campaign-finance law, which states that an “expenditure” does not include any news story “distributed” through a publication by a press entity acting in its “legitimate press function.” If AMI purchased the McDougal story and simply decided not to run it, it would be exercising its judgment as a journalistic organization and there would be nothing untoward about it. If it purchased the story without intending to run it, however, it might not be subject to that exemption.