In interviews Wednesday and Thursday, President Trump’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani repeatedly asserted that a $130,000 payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels during the presidential campaign was legal. “It’s not campaign money,” he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “No campaign finance violation.” The settlement with Daniels, made by Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen in the fall of 2016, was a “personal thing,” Giuliani later told The Washington Post. “Was the president really wise to take it out of personal funds rather than from campaign funds?” he added. “Thank God he did, [or else] he’d get a campaign finance violation they’d try to drum up into a felony or something. The president is personally protected.” But under federal campaign finance rules, a contribution is “anything of value given, loaned or advanced to influence a federal election.” A “knowing and willful” violation of those rules can lead to criminal charges.
Campaign finance experts said that the then-secret payment to Daniels — which was already the subject of complaints to the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department — could be problematic, particularly after Giuliani’s extensive public comments.
If the payment were “wholly personal, as in made to help Trump’s marriage but not his campaign,” it would not amount to a campaign finance violation, according toRichard Hasen, election law expert at the University of California at Irvine.
But the fact that it was made so close to the election raises questions, experts say. Cohen struck the secret settlement with Daniels in October 2016, shortly after the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged about grabbing women by their private parts.