The Atlantic reports

In pleading guilty to violations of campaign-finance laws, Cohen said that the then-candidate Trump had directed him to do so, arranging payments to two women who alleged affairs with Trump in order to hush them up and affect the result of the 2016 election.

Cohen has plead guilty to eight felonies, including campaign finance violations by paying of a woman to keep her quiet leading up to the US Federal election.

Has anyone ever been charged with - much less convicted of - unduly influencing a campaign and election results by paying an informant to not come forward with "damning" information?

Has anyone ever been tried and convicted of similar transgressions in any US election?

2 Answers 2


John Edwards was charged and acquitted on similar facts.

Note, though, that Cohen isn't being charged with unduly influencing the election. As far as campaign-finance laws are concerned, there's nothing wrong with influencing an election by paying hush money to a candidate's side piece.

Instead, the law simply asks that you disclose the money you spend when you file your campaign finance reports, and it prohibits direct corporate contributions to a campaign, as well as individual contributions in excess of $2,700.

Cohen went wrong by coordinating his work with "Individual-1" to help his campaign by providing valuable legal services and paying hush money to "Woman-1" and "Woman-2" without the campaign paying for it and without the campaign disclosing it.

Had Cohen been on the campaign's payroll, and had the hush money come out of the campaign treasury, and had the campaign disclosed it all on their campaign-finance reports, I think he would not be in any legal trouble (although there is the tax evasion, too).

I think it's probably safe to say that campaigns make these types of payments to people with damaging information somewhat frequently, and they don't get in trouble because the money comes from campaign funds (why would you want to go out of pocket, anyway?) and they report the expenditures as required. Because the campaign-finance laws are so loose, "disclosing" the expenditure isn't going to give anything away, because you can basically just say "$100,000 to Stephanie Clifford for personal services."

  • "campaigns make these types of payments to people with damaging information somewhat frequently" could you amplify on that a bit? Perhaps with citations of actual examples where expenditures were disclosed as ' avoidance of damaging information (aka hush money). I'm not necessarily challenging your speculation, just asking if it is based in fact or conjecture.
    – BobE
    Aug 26, 2018 at 18:55
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    It's definitely based more on conjecture, but John Edwards would be a good example. I'm not as familiar with the particulars, but Nixon's personal attorney I think did the same type of thing. Again, they wouldn't need to disclose it as a "payment of hush money." The disclosure rules allow fairly broad characterizations of expenditures, so they would more likely just label it "personal services" or something like that.
    – bdb484
    Aug 27, 2018 at 12:21
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    the law simply asks that you disclose the money you spend but where is the dividing line between personal money/projects/paying off of blackmail attempts/bribes and "campaign related" money/projects/pay-off/bribes? I think that's where my disconnect is... if Trump buys a car - or, say, a tour bus - and uses it to drive around from rally to rally... it's his own money and his own bus which he continues to use after - I know there are differences, but where does "his money" and "campaign money" end and begin? (probably it's own question)
    – WernerCD
    Aug 27, 2018 at 16:23
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    Had Cohen been on the campaign's payroll - but he was Trumps lawyer before, during and after... why would he be on the "campaign payroll" and why would these "expenses" be as well if they are, well, personal business dealings? I think my questions are closely related if continents apart.
    – WernerCD
    Aug 27, 2018 at 16:25
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    So if Trump goes into his own wallet to buy a car or a bus or a donut or a box of popsicle sticks to influence the election, he needs to report it. If he buys the popsicle sticks to make art for his private collection, he doesn't need to report it. If he pays his personal lawyer to shut someone up to influence the election, he needs to report it, regardless of the prior relationship. If he pays his personal lawyer to take him to see Boss Baby for personal reasons, he doesn't need to report it.
    – bdb484
    Aug 27, 2018 at 22:26

Probably the closest precedent:

In a case that had no precedent, the Department of Justice began an investigation aimed at proving Mr. Edwards conspired to secretly use the money to influence the outcome of his presidential bid in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act, accepting contributions that exceeded campaign finance limits, and causing his campaign to file a false financial disclosure report.

He was indicted in June 2011.

In response to your question about conviction:

Edwards Not Guilty on One Count; Mistrial on Five Others

As best as I can understand it, these charges were relative to primary elections in the runup to the convention, (Edwards dropped out before the Democratic convention) so the violations were attendant to state party preference elections as versus a nationwide general election.

As an interesting sidelight, the initial story was broken by the National Enquirer.

As we know, in federal court it takes only one hold-out juror to deadlock and cause a mistrial.

The DOJ subsequently did not refile and try the remaining charges. (one can speculate .. "what was the point of retrying?" Edwards was finished politically and his reputation shot)

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