Trump lawyer’s payment to porn star draws comparisons to John Edwards case

 In Politics

John Edwards is pictured. | Getty Images

John Edwards saw his reputation savaged when his affair with videographer Rielle Hunter was revealed during the 2008 presidential campaign. | Charles Ommanney/Getty Images

Porn actress Stephanie Clifford’s lawsuit against President Donald Trump over a hush-money deal struck days before the 2016 election is drawing comparisons to another legal fight involving a politician who had an affair: John Edwards.

Edwards saw his reputation savaged when his affair with videographer Rielle Hunter was revealed during the 2008 presidential campaign, after Edwards’ wife had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the fallout wasn’t just political: Edwards was eventually indicted on six felonies after wealthy donors spent $1 million to cover travel, hotel, medical and housing expenses incurred by Hunter, who was pregnant with Edwards’ child. The travel included secretive charter flights arranged to hide the pregnancy.

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Now, Trump’s alleged dalliance with a porn actress has moved beyond tabloid fodder, too, as questions mount about his involvement in a payoff just weeks before Election Day 2016. With Clifford’s claim now in court, Trump and his associates could be forced to answer questions under oath and turn over documents about his involvement in the arrangement and what his role was in the $130,000 longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen arranged to pay to the adult film star in October 2016.

The key legal question is whether the $130,000 was intended to advance Trump’s chances in the election. If it was, it should not have been routed through a corporation and might amount to an illegally large campaign contribution. If Trump paid the money in connection with his campaign, it should have been reported on his campaign finance reports.

“I do think this is moving closer and closer to the territory where Edwards was subject to criminal prosecution,” said Hampton Dellinger, a former North Carolina deputy attorney general who closely followed the case against the former Democratic presidential hopeful.

Edwards was charged in 2011 with conspiracy, accepting illegal campaign contributions and making false statements. A jury acquitted Edwards on one charge and couldn’t reach verdicts on the others, although jurors said the vote tallies leaned in favor of acquittal on those counts as well.

The suit Clifford filed this week argues that Trump must have been involved in directing Cohen to bottle up Clifford’s potentially damaging story as well as text messages and photos that may have embarrassed the then-candidate, just as he was dealing with fallout from an old “Access Hollywood” recording in which he bragged about groping women.

“It strains credibility to conclude that Mr. Cohen is acting on his own accord without the express approval and knowledge of his client Mr. Trump,” Clifford’s lawsuit states.

The payment would only need to have been included in campaign finance reports if it was related to Trump’s candidacy, not if it was for personal reasons.

“I think the timing of this payment in relation to the campaign and some of the other statements that were supposedly made by Cohen make it a somewhat stronger case that this was not personal, but was campaign related,” said University of California law professor Rick Hasen. “It’s by no means a sure thing.”

Cohen said in a statement Friday that Clifford’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, “has clearly allowed his 15 minutes of fame to affect his ludicrous conclusions. The earth-shattering uncovered email between myself and the bank corroborates all my previous statements; which is I transferred money from one account at that bank into my LLC and then wired said funds to Ms. Clifford’s attorney in Beverly Hills, California.”

Cohen added that he drew on a home-equity line of credit to make the payment.

In a statement last month he said he used “personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Clifford.” The payment was made through a limited liability corporation in connection with a non-disclosure agreement aimed at silencing Clifford about her involvement with Trump starting in 2006.

“The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone,” Cohen said in his earlier statement.

Through spokespeople, Trump has insisted there was no affair with Clifford. Cohen has not been clear in his public statements about whether Trump knew about or directed the payment.

“The president has denied the allegations against him,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday. “This case has already been won in arbitration,” she added, apparently referring to a confidential, private proceeding aimed at enforcing the non-disclosure agreement Clifford and Cohen signed using pseudonyms.

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