FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments

The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) has closed its investigation into whether former President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE illegally made hush money payments to women prior to the 2016 election.

The FEC voted 4-1 to close the inquiry after failing to find that Trump or his campaign “knowingly and willfully” violated campaign finance law when his former attorney Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenMichael Cohen: Trump bluffing about another White House bid Eric Trump lawyer in New York attorney general's fraud case quits Andrew Cuomo and the death of shame MORE paid $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her from disclosing an alleged affair.

Cohen was convicted in 2018 of lying to Congress, tax evasion and other charges relating to the payments to Daniels and other women. He served three years in prison.

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His attorney said Cohen testified in court that the payment was made “for the principal purpose of influencing an election.”

The FEC's Office of General Counsel issued a report in December finding that there was “reason to believe” that Cohen and the Trump campaign knowingly and willfully violated campaign finance law.

However, the FEC said that it failed by a 2-2 vote to prove any of the parties violated campaign finance law.

Republican Commissioners James "Trey" Trainor and Sean Cooksey voted to dismiss the matter. Republican Vice Chairman Allen Dickerson recused himself, while independent Commissioner Steven Walther did not vote.

Dickerson and Cooksey wrote in a statement that they felt Cohen had already been punished criminally and the matter was “not the best use of agency resources.”

“The public record is complete with respect to the conduct at issue in these complaints, and Mr. Cohen has been punished by the government of the United States for the conduct at issue in these matters,” they said.

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In a separate statement, Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub and Commission Chair Shana Broussard said the probe should have been continued after the general counsel said there was reason to believe campaign finance law was broken.

“To conclude that a payment, made 13 days before Election Day to hush up a suddenly newsworthy 10-year-old story, was not campaign-related, without so much as conducting an investigation, defies reality,” the commissioners wrote.

During an appearance on Cohen’s podcast “Mea Cupa” in February, Cohen apologized to Daniels for the “needless pain” that was caused involving the payments.

Daniels has since sued Trump for defamation over his denial of her allegations and the hush money payments.

—Updated Friday at 11:34 a.m.