June 13, 2019
  • Group seeks to jump-start FEC probe of payments to McDougal
  • Sitting presidents can face civil action, the lawsuit maintains

A nonprofit group has filed a lawsuit intended to prod the Federal Election Commission to investigate whether President Donald Trump violated campaign finance law over allegations he was involved in a $150,000 hush-money payment to a former Playboy model. Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty last August to violating campaign finance law by arranging the payment to Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model, and $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Both women have said they had affairs with Trump, which the president has denied.

Since Cohen’s plea, there has been no sign that the Justice Department or the Federal Election Commission is following up to determine if Trump or his campaign violated the law, according to Ron Fein, the lead attorney in the lawsuit filed Thursday by Free Speech for People, a Newton, Massachusetts-based nonprofit. Federal prosecutors are prevented from acting due to a Justice Department policy that prevents indicting a sitting president, a policy that was affirmed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. But the FEC, which has civil enforcement authority over campaign finance law, faces no such constraint. The agency has investigated and fined the campaigns of sitting presidents in the past, Fein noted.

“It’s very unlikely prosecutors would cross the line” and pursue a case against Trump after Mueller said an indictment of the president isn’t possible, Fein said. “But an investigation by the FEC is not subject to the same limits.”

The group is alleging the payment to McDougal, which came from the National Enquirer, violated a ban on corporate contributions and disclosure rules.

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