The confidentiality settlement reportedly paid to an adult-film star who said she had an affair with Donald Trump years before he became president may have violated campaign finance laws, a watchdog group alleged Monday.
In a pair of federal complaints, Common Cause, a nonprofit government watchdog group, argued that the settlement amounted to an unreported in-kind contribution to Trump's campaign. The group called on the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission to investigate.
These complaints focused on the Wall Street Journal's report earlier this month that Trump's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, negotiated a secret $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, the porn star, not long before the presidential election in 2016. The Washington Post has not independently verified that settlement, which is said to have been finalized as Trump was facing numerous accusations of sexual misconduct from women during the final weeks of the campaign.
This settlement should have been considered a campaign expense “because the funds were paid for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential general election,” Paul S. Ryan, a campaign finance expert at the group, said in a letter addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.
The pair of complaints filed by Common Cause said that the source of the $130,000 payment remains unknown, but they added that regardless of where it originated — even “if Donald J. Trump provided the funds” — the money was aimed at affecting the election and then never reported.
Officials with Trump's campaign committee did not respond to requests for comment Monday, while Cohen rejected the allegations in the complaints.
“The Common Cause complaint is baseless along with the allegation that President Trump filed a false report to the F.E.C.," he wrote in an email Monday afternoon.
While Daniels — whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — had told journalists in multiple interviews over the years that she and Trump began an affair after meeting at a celebrity golf tournament in 2006, that story did not receive widespread attention until the Journal's report.
Cohen had dismissed the Journal's story as “rumors [that] have circulated time and again since 2011.” He also released a statement bearing Daniels's signature that denied an affair and called reports of a payment “completely false.”
In the days after the report of the payments first emerged, Slate and In Touch both published stories detailing interviews Daniels had given over the years, during which she relayed a consistent account of her interaction with Trump.
Last week, In Touch, the celebrity magazine, posted an extensive transcript from a 2011 interview it said Daniels gave them. The magazine did not publish a story about the interview until after the Journal's report.
Daniels is quoted as describing a sexual encounter with Trump at the golf tournament, which occurred just months after his wife, Melania, gave birth to their son, Barron. Daniels also recounted a relationship that continued with phone calls and in-person meetings for about a year, describing mundane scenes of watching television with Trump and hearing him boast about being on the cover of a magazine.
Ultimately, Daniels decided to tell a reporter about the affair during a telephone interview in 2011 because Trump — at the time a reality television star who had flirted with running for president in 2012 — had made comments criticizing people in the pornography business, the transcript said.
She is also quoted as saying she felt newly guilty about the encounter at the golf tournament after having a child.
“At the time, I didn’t think that much about it,” Daniels is quoted as saying. “But now that I have a baby that’s the same age that his was at the time. … I feel bad. It didn’t occur to me at the time.”
Years later, Daniels relayed many of the same anecdotes included in the In Touch transcript to Slate, according to Jacob Weisberg, chairman and editor in chief of the Slate Group.
Weisberg wrote in a story last week that Daniels spoke to him in the weeks and months before the 2016 election because she had worked out an agreement for “a six-figure sum to keep quiet” but feared Trump might not pay up. She stopped responding a week before the election.
Daniels has not responded to attempts to reach her, nor has a lawyer said to be representing her. During an appearance late Saturday at a strip club in Greenville, S.C., Daniels did not discuss the Trump-related stories that had drawn a small cadre of reporters to that venue, only hinting at the news.
“It’s crazy how one moment can overshadow 15 years of work,” she told the audience.
The White House has not publicly commented on the Daniels story since the Journal report about the $130,000 payment, which it played down as “old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election.” In an interview with the Associated Press in Jerusalem on Monday, Vice President Pence said he would not “comment on the latest baseless allegation against the president.”
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday about the complaint. An automated email reply from a spokeswoman for the FEC referred to the government shutdown that began over the weekend, stating that the agency “will be closed until it receives an appropriation to fund its operations.”