Digesting the news that his personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen had pleaded guilty to campaign finance charges, President Trump turned to a tried-and-true tactic: He attacked Barack Obama.
On the same day that Paul Manafort was convicted on eight financial fraud charges of his own, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal crimes, including paying off Stormy Daniels, for the express purpose of influencing the 2016 campaign.
Trump’s take: It’s not a crime, and what about Obama?
First things first: Michael Cohen definitely committed a crime.
“It is a crime to make excessive, unreported campaign contributions, even to pay off a mistress, if done for the purpose of influencing the campaign,” Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California Irvine, told me. “That’s what Cohen admitted to, and if done willfully, it is a crime.”
As for Trump’s seeming non sequitur to Obama, it is true that the ex-president’s 2008 campaign paid a $375,000 fine — one of the biggest ever, though, when you account for the $1 billion Obama raised, “proportionally, it’s not out of line,” a Republican attorney told Politico — for failing to report certain contributions within 48 hours.
From Politico in 2013, when the Obama campaign reached the settlement with the Federal Election Commission alluded to by Trump:
I asked Hasen about how Obama’s actions compared to Cohen’s.
“Inadvertent violations like Obama’s are punished civilly by the FEC,” he said.
Criminal violations are handled, as Cohen’s were, in court.