In the early days of 2008, America learned from a National Enquirer report that erstwhile presidential candidate John Edwards had an extramarital affair that he later tried to cover up. At the time, the story seemed salacious and juicy — but ultimately a personal matter for Edwards.
But the gossip item was actually just the beginning of a sordid legal saga: Edwards was investigated by the FBI for two years and indicted on six criminal charges related to campaign finance fraud. Though he was acquitted on one charge, the jury deadlocked on the other five and the government ultimately decided not to retry him, he was nonetheless completely discredited as a public figure.
Now, Donald Trump faces similar, if significantly more lurid, allegations of potential campaign finance irregularities. The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen paid Stephanie Clifford (stage name Stormy Daniels) $130,000 in October 2016 to keep quiet about an affair she had with Trump shortly after his wife gave birth to their son. Other publications have confirmed aspects of the story, and In Touch Weekly published an interview from 2011 in which Daniels described the affair in detail.
These revelations do more than just confirm what many of us already knew about Trump’s personal character. They raise serious questions about whether Trump will face yet another FBI investigation during his time in office. Like Edwards, Trump should face questions about whether he broke laws or ethical standards in the process of trying to cover up his personal indiscretion.
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The American people deserve to know the truth about why their president was paying $130,000 to a former paramour in apparent exchange for her silence in the middle of the campaign, and whether he broke federal election law or violated the public trust in the process.
That is why I am filing a complaint today with the Federal Election Commission, requesting an investigation into whether Trump violated campaign finance law to conceal the payment to Clifford.
Election law in America requires that presidential candidates disclose the money they are spending on the election for a reason: Our laws reflect the common understanding that the American people are entitled to know if candidates are doing things like paying hush money while running for president. If Donald Trump used campaign funds to pay off Daniels without disclosing it properly, we deserve to know that, too.
Of course, a full accounting of Trump's wrongdoing may implicate him in more than a campaign finance scandal. We deserve to know what, exactly, Stormy Daniels was paid to keep quiet. When Trump paid her off, the American public already knew quite a bit about Trump’s alleged history of sexual assault and misconduct and his past as a sexual libertine. Would he really pay out $130,000 just to conceal an affair — or does Daniels know something that has yet to be revealed?
We must also get to the bottom of pressing questions about whether the Trump Administration has lied to the American people about these events. Vice President Mike Pence has called the allegations of an affair “baseless,” despite the fact that reporters have documentation of Daniels making the claims years before Trump ran for president. Though this is far from the first bald-faced lie that Pence has told the American people to cover for Trump, we should remain outraged that the vice president of the United States is apparently lying to us to cover for his boss.
Perhaps most disconcertingly, Trump making a habit of secretly paying people to paper over his personal indiscretions poses a serious risk to the integrity of the presidency and to our country. Now that he is president, Trump is in a position to give away a lot more than $130,000 of his own money to someone who knows something damaging about his past. Everything I have ever learned about Trump’s character suggests to me that he would be more than willing to sell out American interests in order to keep embarrassing personal indiscretions out of the public eye.
In paying to cover up an affair while running for president, Trump put himself in the middle of a legal and ethical minefield. Nothing about Trump’s temperament or character suggests to me he would have navigated that minefield without making the situation even worse.
Robert Mueller's investigation may be closing in on Trump as I write this, but Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels could drive the final nail into the coffin of Trump’s political career.
David Brock is the author of five political books, including "Killing the Messenger" (Hachette, 2015) and "Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative" (Crown, March 2002). He founded Media Matters for America in 2004 and then American Bridge 21st Century in 2011.