I see on the television that Donald Trump is to be the first ex-president to be charged with a crime. The legal details are not yet disclosed, but according to the leakers, who usually get these things right, his crime was that he had an agent pay $130,000 to a woman named Stormy Daniels.
Stormy had made a living in pornographic films, but according to the New York Times, which usually gets these things right (but not always), Trump’s money wasn’t for her professional services. It was for not spreading the story during the 2016 campaign that ten years earlier, when Trump had been the host of Celebrity Apprentice, he had invited her to his apartment and, according to her, had taken her to bed on the promise that she could be a guest on his show. He denies this. And, according to her, he broke his manly promise. She was angry at being Trumped, though could she have really been surprised? It is reported that she had been scheming for a decade on how to screw him in return.
In 2016 came her chance. Trump was in the heat of an election struggle with Hillary Clinton. The man had a reputation as a cocksman, to be sure, but he was still put on the defensive when the Washington Post reported some goatish remarks he had made about his prowess with women. Stormy saw her chance, and threatened to tell her tale. That’s when Trump’s man slipped her $130,000 to keep it under covers.
Daniels was angry at being Trumped, though could she have really been surprised?
That’s the story. See if you can find the crime in it. You might think it was blackmail, but she’s not being indicted. He is. What’s his crime?
According to the leakers, there were two. (Maybe we’ll find out more.) The Donald’s first supposed crime was that under New York law, the Trump Organization falsely accounted for the $130,000 as “legal expenses.” Well, what was the company supposed to call it? “Asset impairments?” “Contingencies?” Granted that the accounting entry is mislabeled. Still, it’s a private company. Who is the victim?
The second crime, which the commentators say makes the first one a felony, was that the payment of $130,000 was a violation of the campaign finance laws.
Maybe Trump’s payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels should be shrugged off as a transaction between consenting adults.
The campaign finance laws have, as they say, been “weaponized” before. Recall the case of Senator John Edwards, the putative champion of the Democratic left, who ran for his party’s presidential nomination in 2008. Edwards’ wife had come down with cancer — terminal cancer — which was a strong reason for him not to run. But she told him to run anyway, and follow his heart’s desire. And he sure did. He had an affair with a woman on his campaign staff, and got her pregnant. To cover this up, and do his duty by her, Edwards paid her $1 million or so of donor money. All this came out, Edwards was horribly embarrassed, and lost the nomination to Barack Obama.
Obama’s Justice Department then went after Edwards — not for cheating on his terminally ill wife, which was a sin but not a crime, but for violation of the campaign finance laws. Under those laws, Edwards, 58, faced a possible sentence of 30 years in prison.
And for what? There was no evidence that Edwards’ donors felt cheated. No donor was called to testify. Who was the victim? The voters? They had a right to know?
Taken to federal court, the Edwards case resulted in a hung jury. The government declined to retry the case and let Edwards go free — which was the right decision.
Some of the things Trump has done may be serious crimes, and if they are, he should be prosecuted for them.
Back to The Donald. If the Trump Organization pays a porn princess $130,000 not to tell a tale on the CEO, is that a campaign contribution? It’s not a contribution to a campaign, though it is done to affect the campaign. And doubtless would have been done anyway.
Maybe the prosecutors have a case. The pundits — at least the Democrats, which is most of them — are parroting the line, “No one is above the law.” And I think, “Maybe we shouldn’t have laws like this.” Maybe Trump’s payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels should be shrugged off as a transaction between consenting adults.
I am not writing this as a supporter of Trump. I have never voted for him. I think he has been a terrible influence on the Republican Party, which had enough bad influences already. Other indictments are said to be brewing; some of the things Trump has done may be serious crimes, and if they are, he should be prosecuted for them. But the government needs to do better than this.