President Trump needed to mount a forceful response to a federal court filing from last week alleging that his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, violated campaign finance laws at his direction. So he sat down with Fox News.
In an interview with host Harris Faulkner that aired on Thursday afternoon, Trump held himself blameless. “Nobody except for me would be looked at like this. Nobody,” he told Faulkner. His complaint was that the hush payments that Cohen had arranged for two women, with the involvement of the National Enquirer, didn’t violate campaign finance laws, and he cited a piece by the Heritage Foundation’s Hans A. von Spakovsky, as well as an opinion piece in the National Review headlined “Michael Cohen Pled Guilty to Something That Is Not a Crime.”
“What about Congress, where they have a slush fund? And millions and millions of dollars is paid out each year. They have a slush fund. Millions -- they don’t talk about campaign finance anything. Have you ever heard of campaign finance laws? Have they listed that on their campaign finance sheets? No,” said Trump.
Here, the president was referring to a congressional kitty used to pay out settlements, including those stemming from sexual harassment complaints. That’s a nifty little argument. Wonder where a guy like Trump came up with it?
One possibility is Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who on Monday night laid out essentially the same argument that Trump articulated on Fox News on Thursday afternoon:
Now, by this reasoning, any money a political candidate spends to maintain or protect his image while running for office now qualifies as a regulated campaign donation, and has to be disclosed. That would include, by the way, in addition to an infinite number of other things, buying toothpaste and getting a haircut.
It would definitely include the taxpayer-financed slush fund that Congress has set aside to pay off its own sexual harassment claims. Yes, those now qualify as campaign contributions. They must be publicly disclosed, except, of course, they’re not publicly disclosed, and they never will be. Why is that?
Bolding added to highlight Fox News-Trump echo effect.
It is possible, of course, that Trump dug up this talking point somewhere else. In his Wednesday piece on the matter, for example, von Spakovsky wrote that Capitol Hill lawmakers might be in trouble under the legal premise of the Cohen campaign-finance proceedings. “Last year, it was reported that Congress has secretly paid out over $17 million to settle close to 300 cases by staffers claiming sexual and other forms of harassment and discrimination.”
Then again, Trump could have sourced the argument from his lawyers. Whatever the provenance, Fox News viewers get a one-two punch of polemical reinforcement: They hear it from a leading network host and also from the president himself. He’s gotta be the victim of a double standard.